A TORQUAY man who deliberately set fire to his own flat killing an unwanted housemate asleep inside has been jailed for life to serve a minimum of 24 years.

Raymond Lynagh, 57, started the fire and then tampered with a gas pipe behind the oven to fuel the flames in a catastrophic revenge attack against Dean Corbett.

Exeter Crown Court heard that Lynagh wanted to get back at Mr Corbett who had ‘cuckooed’ his flat weeks before. He was fed up with him living there and with aspects of his behaviour.

The body of 37-year-old Mr Corbett was found in the back bedroom; he had died from inhalation of fumes and gas in what firefighters described as ‘one of the worst house fires they had ever attended.’

Lynagh consistently denied killing Mr Corbett but was convicted of murder during a trial in December.

Today, January 16, he was sentenced to life in prison to serve a minimum of 24 years.

The court heard that Lynagh and Mr Corbett knew each other from frequenting Torquay town centre. Both were known to use drugs and alcohol.

Mr Corbett was homeless but had been staying at Lynagh’s ground floor flat in Ellacombe Road in Torquay for a few weeks before the fire on Saturday, May 22, 2021. He had taken over the only bedroom at night, leaving Lynagh to sleep on the lounge sofa.

Lynagh told police he had become frustrated with what he described as Corbett’s ongoing antisocial behaviour, claiming he had damaged property in the flat, assaulted him and stolen his belongings. He also blamed him for an eviction notice served at the flat.

On the day of the murder CCTV captured both Lynagh and Corbett in and around Torquay at various times. The last sighting of Corbett was around 10pm when a witness saw him in the flat.

Lynagh was seen in the rear service lane of Ellacombe Road around 10.25pm; shortly afterwards smoke was seen billowing from the flat nearby.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service received the first of a dozen 999 calls from neighbours at 11.06pm, arriving 10 minutes later to find a ‘very large and destructive’ fire at the flat.

The heat was so intense that two firefighter teams had to tackle the blaze at the front of the building to even reach the gas supply isolation boxes under the lounge window.

Firefighters and police officers found Lynagh sitting on a stool in the back garden within an arm’s length of the house; the back door was open with the fire clearly visible inside and flames were coming out of the first floor window directly above him.

He did not appear burned or injured and was wearing little clothing, including a jacket, tracksuit bottoms, and one sock. He wasn’t wearing any shoes.

Officers put Lynagh into a police car for his own safety but saw him discard a lighter under the front passenger seat.

Lynagh immediately claimed to officers that Mr Corbett had set the fire and had fled by the back door. However this was a lie - the victim was lying deceased on the bed in the rear bedroom of the flat.

At no time did Lynagh alert any of the neighbours about the fire or call the emergency services, the prosecution told the court. He simply sat in the garden watching the building burn.

Lynagh was taken to Torbay Hospital to be checked for possible smoke inhalation after claiming to paramedics that he had been in the fire for three to four hours.

He was arrested on suspicion of murder after being discharged a couple of hours later because of inconsistencies in his story.

The Force Major Crime Investigation Team launched a murder enquiry under Operation Maintree, using medical and technical experts, plus witness testimony, to prove that the fire was a deliberate act.

After being collected from police custody on May 23, Lynagh told a support worker that he was responsible for the death and Mr Corbett ‘had it coming to him.’ He said he wanted revenge and was sick of him and the way he was being treated.

Days later Lynagh confessed to a friend about setting the fire and killing Mr Corbett after he had fallen asleep on prescription medication.

In police interviews Lynagh changed his story several times about his movements on the night of the murder but denied starting the fire or killing Mr Corbett.

In one interview he claimed he returned home and found the fire, turned off the gas and shouted for help. He said he searched the whole flat while it was well alight but did not see Mr Corbett on the bed. He later claimed he was asleep on the sofa when the fire broke out.

Lynagh also said he had only just escaped the fire alive having been forced back by the heat, and burns and glass injuries to his feet and hands proved his story. No such injuries were found.

Forensic tests also failed to support Lynagh’s account as the expected level of heat and fire damage was not found on his clothing.

As part of the investigation detectives called on the expertise of metallurgy and gas specialists.

It was determined that the zinc elbow joint connecting the gas supply pipe to the oven hob had been deliberately broken by hand.

The oven was not secured properly and could be removed easily to gain quick access to the gas main supply pipe to the hob. Lynagh had previously tried to fix the faulty oven door so was fully aware.

A gas safety expert calculated that the escaping gas would have taken no more than 15 minutes to ignite.

Forensic fire investigators confirmed two seats of fire, one by the front door and a second on the gas hob. Two of the burners were turned on and material had been wedged against one of them.

Firefighters first on scene described the sheer intensity of the fire, which was hot enough to start to melt some of their equipment, and the extreme damage it caused. They described it as one the worst blazes they had ever encountered and concluded that anyone trapped inside the property would have died.

A post mortem found Mr Corbett had died from inhalation of products of combustion on a background of habitual use of alcohol and drugs.

Detectives concluded that the fire was a deliberate act and that Lynagh knew Mr Corbett was inside and usually slept after drinking or taking substances. He was charged with murder.

Speaking on sentence, Senior Investigating Officer Superintendent Rachael Bentley, said: 'I welcome today’s sentence and the jury finding Lynagh guilty of murder after careful deliberation.

'This has been a lengthy and complex investigation and I would like to praise the dedicated work carried out by the investigation team, supported by South West Forensics and external specialists, to bring Lynagh to justice.

'Throughout this investigation Lynagh maintained that he was not responsible for the death of his victim.

'The simple fact is that he deliberately set a catastrophic and fatal fire knowing full well that Mr Corbett was asleep inside the property. It was a brutal and premeditated act borne out of hatred.

'This is a very sad and tragic case and I only hope that today’s sentence brings some sense of comfort to the family who have acted with dignity and strength throughout this process.'