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Arson victim still fights for his life; Man critically ill in hospital after lunch-time attack at home.

Byline: SOPHIE DOUGHTY Crime Reporter

TRAPPED in his smoke-filled flat, grandfather Derek Stewart feared he was going to die.

The 62-year-old is today critically ill in hospital following the lunchtime arson attack, which sparked a blast in the store cupboard adjacent to his flat.

Mr Stewart was at home alone when the blaze, which is suspected to have been started by children, took hold, blocking his escape from the front door.

And as he dialled 999 the power went off leaving the dad-of-two stranded and alone.

Mr Stewart was rescued by firefighters and rushed to hospital where medics have since sedated him while they attempt to treat the damage caused by the huge amounts of smoke he inhaled.

And today, as the family man continues his fight for life his son, Mark Wood, told of his horror.

He said: "When I saw him in hospital I didn't even recognise him, he was black and covered in soot. He told me he had been screaming for help and trying to get out the windows."

Mr Stewart was using his laptop while his wife Susan, 59, was at work when the arsonists struck, at just after 12.30pm on Sunday.

Police believe rubbish in a store cupboard belonging to the next door flat was set on fire.

Mr Stewart, a part-time debt collector, relived his ordeal to his family from his hospital bed, before he was sedated.

Mark, 38, continued: "He said he had just been sitting on his laptop with his headphones on when he heard an explosion, I think there had been some aerosols in the cupboard.

"He went to look, and when he realised it was on fire he called the fire brigade. But the electrics went off and the phone went dead.

"He said he was screaming for help and panicking because he couldn't get any help. He said; 'I thought I was going to die'."

Dad-of-two, Mark found out what had happened to his dad when police phoned him an said there had been an explosion at the flat.

He rushed to Gateshead's Queen Elizabeth Hospital where his mum was at her husband's bedside, having already been collected from work by police officers.

Michael said: "They said they would have to sedate him and then he was transferred to the RVI. He's still critical now and he's been sedated for another 48 hours."

Police have since arrested an 11-year-old boy in connection with the fire. He was questioned on suspicion of arson before being released on bail.

Mark and his mum can now do nothing but wait and hope that Derek will pull through.

"The doctors aren't really telling us anything," said Mark. "They just keep saying he's critical, but that's all we know."

And the worried son has also told of his anger for whoever started the fire.

"They could have blown the whole block up," said Mark.

. ? Police are still appealing for witnesses to the fire. Call Northumbria Police on 101 with information.

CAPTION(S):

FAMILY Mark on his wedding day with dad Derek and mum Susan

SHOCK Mark Wood at his dad Derek's flat in Wetherby Grove, Gateshead
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 20, 2013
Words:524
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