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Cannabis fire forces Norwich grandmother from her home

PUBLISHED: 14:09 09 March 2010 | UPDATED: 08:41 02 July 2010

June Hill.

June Hill.

Peter Walsh

A Norwich grandmother forced to move out of her house after it was damaged in a fire caused by a neighbour growing cannabis plants in the loft has spoken out about her "nightmare" six-month ordeal.

A Norwich great-grandmother forced to move out of her house after it was damaged in a fire caused by a neighbour growing cannabis plants in the loft has spoken out about her “nightmare” six-month ordeal.

Sixty-seven-year old June Hill has still not been able to step foot in the council-owned house she has called home for almost 40 years following the devastating fire which broke out in a neighbouring property at the end of September last year.

When firefighters arrived to tackle the blaze at Gertrude Road, which was caused by an electrical fault in the roof of the property, it was discovered that cannabis plants had been growing in the loft.

Robert Michell, 32, a council tenant at the neighbouring property, admitted producing cannabis in September last year and was ordered to do 120 hours unpaid work.

But while Michell has been sentenced for his crime, for Mrs Hill, a mother of three, grandmother of eight and great grandmother of four, the ordeal continues.

Mrs Hill, whose husband died from an industrial disease in 1992, aged just 53, said: “I haven't set foot in the house since September 21. I've been living with my daughter and staying with my sons - I've been living out of a suitcase. It's been an absolute nightmare - I just want to get back.”

Extensive damage from the fire meant the roof of the adjoining properties has had to be replaced, while there was also significant smoke damage and concern about the state of the chimney.

Mrs Hill, who has lived in the house for 37 years, was on holiday in Greece at the time of the fire. She said: “I saved for 18 months to go on that holiday with a friend. I got a phone call while we were getting ready to go out to say there had been a fire in the road.”

Her family initially wanted to shield her from the news so as not to ruin her holiday, but when Mrs Hill called home to find out more, they reluctantly broke the bad news.

Mrs Hill, who has been staying with her daughter Deborah in Skelton Road, Heartsease, since the fire, said: “I was lying on the beach when I got a call. They said everything had to be moved out. I just burst out crying and wanted to come home and be with them. It spoilt my holiday.”

When she returned, Mrs Hill went to see the damage for herself, but has still been unable to get into the property.

She said: “I came home and couldn't get in as it was all padlocked up -it was like a building site. You don't know how it feels when you come back home from holiday and can't get in your own house.”

Mrs Hill, who became depressed following the fire, said she would not have been able to cope were it not for the help of her daughter Deborah, 40, and sons Melly, 46, and Martin, 43, who have all helped put her up and store items from her house. Other items are being stored in a unit at the Big Yellow Self Storage company, near Norwich's Riverside.

Melly, a postal worker, who also lives in Gertrude Road, said the whole saga had been an “absolute nightmare” for the family and they just wanted the situation resolved as soon as possible.

He said: “We had just a few hours to get out what we could. That was part of the shock. Then we had to go and get everything into storage. It was as if she had passed away - that's how we felt.”

Melly said he and the rest of the family felt the sentence given to Michell was not severe enough as their mother was still suffering from the consequences of his actions.

He said: “He only got 120 hours community service, but we feel it's not enough. There is one person that's suffered and that's my mother - my mother is still living her nightmare.”

A Norwich City Council spokeswoman said: “We do sympathise with Mrs Hill who has had to move out of her house due to no fault of her own, but as a direct result of the illegal actions of another. We appreciate this has not been easy for her and she is receiving money for having to live elsewhere.

“The damage caused by the fire has been very extensive and meant re-roofing both houses as well as a number of substantial interior repairs and reconstructions.

“Our contractor has informed us that they hope the works will be complete, and the home habitable again, in the next two to three weeks.”

Have you got a story for the Evening News? Call reporter Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email peter.walsh@archant.co.uk

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