While a teenager and her grandmother slept in their Bethnal Green flat, two men poured petrol through the letterbox and set it alight, killing both women. The men, who started the fire over a £15 debt, were given life sentences at the Old Bailey on Monday.
After siphoning the petrol from a motorbike which they also torched, Jake Sheehan and David Philip started a blaze at the fifth-floor flat that took fire fighters three hours to control.
The bodies of Pauline Adams, 57, and 17-year-old Shannen Vickers were found inside, lying next to each other, dressed in their night-clothes. They had both died of smoke inhalation.
Sheehan, of Bethnal Green, and Philip, of Bow, each received a minimum of 25 years at the Old Bailey for the murder which took place in the early hours of February 22 this year.
The pair had targeted the flat as revenge for losing “street credibility”, said judge Richard Hawkins. Earlier that night they had fought at a club with Shannen’s cousin, who owed them £15.
He also lived at Malmesbury House in Cyprus Street where the fire happened, along with his and Shannen’s mothers. But the victims – both of whom knew Sheehan, having lived on an estate adjacent to the one where he grew up – were alone at the time.
As he was sent down, 20-year-old Sheehan turned to the packed public gallery and laughed. He and Philip, 19, left the court to cries of “scum” and “it’s not enough”.
Shannen and her grandmother were believed to have been sleeping when the fire broke out. Pauline woke and went to her granddaughter’s bedroom. “Shannen was heard screaming for just a few seconds but she was not heard again,” said prosecutor Simon Denison QC.
“They were both overcome by the smoke and the fumes and they died together, lying side by side – two completely innocent people killed over a £15 debt and not losing face.”
In a family impact statement Nicola Vickers, who lost both her mother and only child in the fire, said: “I cannot express in writing the pain of losing my daughter, she was my life.
“Shannen was determined, hard-working, independent and caring, and I know she would have grown into a well-rounded young woman.”
A family friend outside court said the sentence was too lenient and the murderers should “rot in prison”. The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous and who lives on the Cranbrook Estate where Sheehan lived, said: “It’s absolutely heartbreaking.
“I knew Pauline for over 35 years. You could not have asked for a better woman, mother, and grandmother. She was very well respected in our community and in Bethnal Green, and there is not a person that would say any different.
“I’m hoping that it’s going to be a better place now without the likes of Jake Sheehan being there.”
Shannen had just passed exams on her business studies course at Epping College. Friends on a 1,000-strong Facebook group dedicated to her memory describe her as a “beautiful child”, and “sweetheart”.
“There will always be an empty chair at college,” writes another.