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Saturday 25th October 2014
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"Extremely Sad": Teens Guilty Of Homeless Man's Fire Death

Tuesday 19th August 2014

A teenage boy and girl have been sentenced to three years in a young offenders institute after causing a fire in a derelict building, not realising there was a homeless man inside.

Sylwester Mendzelewski

The case has been described by police as "extremely sad for all those involved".

The abandoned Sea Cadet Centre in Davenant Road, Croydon was being used by a number of rough sleepers - including 35 year old Sylwester Mendzelewski - when, on 10 June 2013, it was set alight.

The building was locally known amongst children in the area as the 'haunted house' and the court heard how a boy, who was 14 at the time, and a 16 year old girl set fire to items they found inside, including paper and a sleeping bag.

Another friend filmed it, although the footage was later deleted, while another waited outside.

The three inside the building left while smoke was still coming from the items but claimed they had not seen any flames.

They had also not realised that they were not alone in the building.

The fire took hold and Mr Mendzelewski's body was found by firefighters who were called just after 3pm.

He had become trapped in a basement room. A post-mortem examination gave the cause of death as smoke inhalation.

In the days following the fire there was a Facebook conversation between the boy and the friend who had filmed the incident. The teenage girl also tweeted a friend saying 'Oh my god what have I done' and 'Panicking a lot right now'.

Five days after the fire both the teenage boy and girl were arrested.

They admitted being at the 'haunted house' and trying to set fire to items within the property. The teenage boy also admitted 'lighting the fire for fun but did not think it would get going as much as it did'.

The pair - now 15 and 17 - have been sentenced at Croydon Crown Court after both were found guilty last month of offences relating to the death of Sylwester Mendzelewski.

Detective Sergeant Adam Manley, of the Homicide and Major Crime Command (HMCC), said: "This is an extremely sad case for all those involved, but more so for the family and friends of Mr Mendzelewski who have lost a loved one.

"Mr Mendzelewski, who was homeless, had been rough sleeping in the basement of the building but was trapped when the fire took hold. He stood very little chance of surviving the blaze. I believe he took refuge at the rear of the property in the hope of escaping the fire and intense smoke.

"The two young people who have been sentenced today are not hardened criminals but simply two individuals who did not think through the consequences of their actions that fateful day."

DS Manley also hopes the case will have an impact on teenagers during the current summer holiday period.

"There will be children across London looking for things to do to keep themselves entertained," he continued. "I hope that this case serves as a warning that starting fires for fun or because you are bored is reckless and irresponsible and you could be putting yourselves, your friends and others in serious danger.

"These two young people were old enough to understand the consequences associated with starting a fire of this nature, but it's only now that this has become a reality to them.

"Both have shown immense remorse but still have to live with the knowledge of what they did and the devastating impact on the lives of others."

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