Failed driver who set fire to herself avoids jail

High Court, Edinburgh
High Court, Edinburgh
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A WOMAN left permanently scarred after setting herself alight because she could not pass her driving test has walked free from court.

Mum-of-three Yamkala Sapkota, 31, admitted recklessly starting the fire, which resulted in severe injury to herself.

The June 2011 blaze also endangered the lives of others, resulting in yesterday’s court appearance.

However, after hearing various submissions, judge Lord Bannatyne took the step of deferring sentence for a year to allow her to prove she could stay out of further trouble.

The court heard that the offence was wholly out of character for the first offender, who has had a clean record since the incident.

As he admonished her, Lord Bannatyne said the deferral had been the right way to deal with the case, adding: “I don’t believe there is any likelihood this will ever happen again.”

Nepalese-born Sapkota doused herself in white spirit and set herself alight in the bedroom of her home in Gordon Street, Leith, after arguing with her husband over her inability to pass her driving test.

She had taken her test four times after paying for around 90 lessons, something which put a significant strain on the family finances.

The court heard that the cost of the lessons led to her husband Sapkota telling her “die if you want.”

After the chef left her alone, desperate Sapkota left a suicide note penned in her native Nepalese, saying she no longer wanted to live.

When police, who were alerted by a neighbour, arrived at the flat, they could see smoke coming out from under the door.

Firefighters wearing breathing gear managed to reach Sapkota and paramedics gave her morphine and oxygen as she was taken to hospital.

Sapkota suffered 12 per cent burns to her face, head, neck, shoulder, right arm and back, and had to undergo extensive skin graft operations. She was also psychiatrically assessed but was diagnosed as not suffering from any mental illness.

Neighbours had reacted angrily to the case. One said: “How selfish can you be? She could have killed not only herself and her family but the eight other families in the block.”

However, defence counsel Sarah Livingstone argued that Sapkota was trying to harm herself and no-one else, and had already paid a price, adding that the scarring to her back was “horrendous” and that she had to wear a special suit.

She said: “She has been punished by the terrible injuries she suffered. She is still receiving treatment.”

Sapkota was also banned from seeing her children unsupervised for over a year after the incident, though the family is now reunited.