A DRUNK suicidal artist who set fire to a gallery in a bid to end his own life has been jailed.

Burnley Crown Court heard how Stephen Mark Ormerod not only caused £105,000 of damage to the Storm Art Gallery in Padiham, he also destroyed bodies of artwork dating back to the 1970s.

The court heard that Ormerod climbed out of the burning building to escape but onlookers feared that people may still have been trapped inside.

And Judge Simon Medland QC told the 53-year-old that his actions in deliberately starting the fire had put the lives of emergency workers at risk and also caused major disruption in the area, with Burnley Road closed off for six hours while the blaze was brought under control.

Prosecuting, Peter Barr said the two-storey building, owned by Peter Rostron, contained a gallery on the ground floor and four studios rented by artists on the first floor.

Mr Barr said the owner of Storm Art Gallery at the time of the fire was Chloe Gamble, who Ormerod was in a relationship with at that time and had lived with for two years.

She said he had been suffering with depression and suicidal thoughts for a long time but his mental health had got worse by the time of the fire.

Mr Barr said that two days before the arson he had told Ms Gamble he had bought poison online.

At 5.50pm on February 7, Ormerod sent Ms Gamble a text message reading: “I am so sorry Chloe. I love you xxx.”

Three minutes later a second message was sent reading: “I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.”

She replied said: “Don’t do anything stupid. I’m coming home xx.”

Lancashire Telegraph:

Stephen Ormerod 

At 6pm, Martin Cumpstey, who owns A1 Motors which is across the road from the gallery, had locked up and was walking to his car when he heard glass breaking. He then saw a figure climbing down scaffolding outside the gallery.

After the figure ignored his calls to stop, Mr Cumpstey reported seeing a glow coming from an upstairs window, which made him think the building was on fire.

Fearing Mr Rostron, who was due to inspect the building that night, may have been trapped inside it he called 999.

Mr Barr said Ms Gamble returned to the gallery, believing Ormerod may have been trapped and said: “He’s in there.”

She returned home after a friend said the defendant had been seen walking along Burnley Road.

When she got to her house she saw Ormerod, who had a cut hand, and asked if he was OK.

However when she smelt smoke on him she realised what Ormerod had done, Mr Barr said.

At that point Ormerod said: “I don’t want to be here Chloe. I have had enough.”

Ms Gamble told Ormerod the police had been called and asked him if he had set the shop on fire, to which he said: “Yes.”

Mr Barr said when he was interviewed by police he was feeling particularly low because he was having difficulties with his business and couldn’t cope with the pressure. He said he had made three previous attempts on his life.

Ormerod said on the evening of the fire he had entered the site using his key, put the door bolt on and left the keys in the door. He said he ensured nobody else was in the building and set a large cardboard box on fire using foam and lighters, which he had bought on the way to the studio.

Ormerod told police that when the room started to fill with smoke he text Ms Gamble and his daughter because he wanted people to know how he had ended his own life.

He told police his actions had been triggered by an off the cuff comment made by a man in the pub.

Ormerod, of Dryden Street, Padiham, pleaded guilty to arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

In his victim personal statement Christopher McKie, an experienced photographer who had rented a studio in the building, said it would cost him in excess of £10,000 to re-equip his work room and another room he had designated for teaching.

He said: “The whole thing has not just been a financial fiasco but a very depressing experience.”

Artist Gillian Fox, who had worked with Ormerod for seven years, said in her impact statement that she felt the defendant had no regard for anyone else’s property - physical or intellectual - and believed himself to be above the law.

She added: “I feel the defendant is in denial and has shown no remorse for his actions.”

Victim Tony Gittins, who has been an artist since the 1970s, said his back catalogue of work is all now lying in ashes, worthless, and the memories dissipated.

Defending, Alison Whalley said her client accepts responsibility for his actions and has shown sincere and genuine remorse. She said her client’s mental health had deteriorated at the time of the offence, not helped by his use of cocaine and alcohol.

Ms Whalley said: “He has stopped taking drugs entirely. His relationship has ended. He sees a councillor once a week. He is unfit to work at the moment. However he is painting again with a view to ultimately starting up his own business again.”

Jailing Ormerod for three years and four months, Judge Medland said: “Against a backdrop of some mental instability in your life you went to premises which you knew well. You bought lighters to assist you to accomplish that which you had for some time - at least on that day - planned. That was to set fire to set fire to the premises concerned.

“The outcome of your actions was that the building was effectively gutted, posing a massive danger to local businesses, pedestrians and emergency workers who had to attend.”

The court heard that work to repair the gallery is still ongoing.