A HOMELESS woman has been jailed for setting light to a car just metres away from Newton Abbot police station.

Melanie Balshaw, 40, stuffed firelighters up the exhaust pipe of the Mazda in the Newfoundland Way car park and then walked the short distance to tell the police what she had done.

She told them it was a cry for help because she was homeless, sleeping in a tent, and unable to access mental health care she thought she needed. 

She told police she hoped the car would explode but officers took fire extinguishers to control the blaze before firefighters arrived. 

Balshaw started another fire three months later in a hotel room where she was housed by the local authority. 

She burned a pair of knickers because they carried bad memories of her ex-partner.

She fled the fire damaged room and police feared for her safety until they found her sleeping rough nearby, Exeter Crown Court was told.

Balshaw, 40, formerly of Teignmouth but now of no fixed address, admitted two arsons and was jailed for a year and eight months by Judge James Adkin. 

He told her: ‘I have considered the psychiatric report which says you do not suffer from a treatable condition. 

‘It seems psychological distress seems to manifest itself in a tendency to set fires.’

Miss Laura D’Alessandro, prosecuting, said the first fire was lit at 8.35 pm on September 11 at Newfoundland Way car park.

Police prevented the fuel tank exploding but the Mazda was written off.

The second fire was lit at 10.25 pm on December 12 in a room at the Sunningdale Apartments in Babbacombe Downs Road causing £1,500 damage to a couch, carpet and ceiling. 

It led police to list Balshaw as a high risk missing person until she was found sleeping outside the nearby Coop shop. 

Mr Chris Cuddihee, defending, said she been in trouble with the police when much younger but settled down with a partner and has two young children.

Her problems re-surfaced after the relationship broke up, she became homeless, and the children were looked after by other family. 

She started to suffer mental health issues and the fires were cries for help.