Matthew Strachan, who is an ‘incredibly talented composer’, has been described as an alcoholic who was struggling with the breakdown of his marriage when he set two fires in his home
Image: Reach PLC)
An award-winning composer who wrote the Who Wants to be a Millionaire theme tune has been given a suspended prison sentence after setting fire to his own home in what prosecutors say was a failed suicide attempt.
Matthew Strachan, 50, has also contributed music to programmes including the BBC’s Question Time and Winning Lines.
He is said to have won 12 awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, 10 of which were for the famous game show’s soundtrack.
Kingston Crown Court heard that he is an “incredibly talented composer of repute” when sober but is an alcoholic and was struggling with the breakdown of his marriage when he set two fires in his home.
He admitted one count of arson earlier this year.
The Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence to a more serious charge of arson with recklessness as to whether life was endangered.
This was after Strachan’s defence team submitted a report from a fire investigator who said the fires set in the kitchen and living room of his Twickenham home did not have the capacity to spread to other properties.
But the sentencing judge heard that the family of four living next door are living in fear that Strachan will attempt to set the house on fire again – and “take them with him”.
In a statement, a resident said: “Since the incident Matthew has mostly been sober but there have been incidents where he has relapsed and started drinking again resulting in a lot of emergency services attending the address.
“I’m constantly worrying he will set his house on fire and take us with him.
“We can hear him moaning and groaning in his house and have to put on loud music or turn the television on to drown it out so the children are not scared. It wakes us up during the night.
“I’m having to lie to my daughter. We have had to keep this away from her as I know it would scare her. I am constantly worrying about what might happen and this keeps me up at night. If I hear moaning we are concerned he will burn the house down.
“There is a constant threat he could set the house on fire.”
Sign up for our daily newsletter to keep up to date with all the essential information at www.mirror.co.uk/email
Strachan was handed a 10 month sentence suspended for two years with alcohol and mental health treatment requirements.
The court heard Strachan set fire to some bedding and cardboard in his living room and kitchen on the evening of March 6, last year.
Prosecutor Charlotte Hole said: “During the course of that call, he told the call handler there is no point anymore and said he was going to throw himself out of the window.”
The court heard paramedics and police arrived to find Strachan in the garden having apparently fallen from a first floor window.
Officers noticed a burning smell and the London Fire Brigade were called out, who had to force entry into the home as Strachan had changed the locks in the early hours of that morning.
Two small fires were discovered, one in the middle of the kitchen and another in the living room.
The family-of-four living next door were all out at the time, the court heard, but came home at around 8pm after emergency services had arrived.
The prosecutor said: “She got home to what she describes as ‘total mayhem’.”
It was said no damage was caused to the neighbour’s property but there was a “significant amount of smoke” and a “strong smell of burning”.
Ms Hole said: “The family received a handwritten letter through the letterbox apparently from Mr Strachan. In that he explained what he had done, acknowledged that he knew this frightened them a lot and it must have been traumatic for them.”
Strachan is said to have written: “I behaved selfishly and recklessly and could have caused damage, I want to be a good neighbour not a terrifying one.”
Ms Hole added that Strachan had told police, in a prepared statement, that he had wanted to kill himself.
She said he added: “He never intended to harm anyone and that he was devastated by his actions and wanted to work with his psychiatrist to get better.”
Philip McGhee, mitigating, told the court Strachan’s colleagues in the music industry have written references describing his “incredible talent”.
He said: “He didn’t conceive of any serious damage or harm coming to anybody. We are dealing with a man who could be described as being acutely unwell at the time.
“He is described in high praise indeed by those who know him as an incredible music talent, incredibly talented, someone of repute and a talented composer.”
Mr McGhee said Strachan had suffered some childhood trauma that had led to his alcoholism, and had recently split with his wife.
Judge Anne Brown said: “You set two fires while heavily intoxicated in the middle of a locked home which is a semi-detached property where there is a family next door which was reckless as to whether damage would be caused to anything or anyone.
“Understandably your neighbours have been very concerned about this incident.
“They have been particularly frightened by this incident and have a constant worry that you could burn their house down and their fear, wholly understandably, means she can’t leave her daughter at home as she would do otherwise.
“It’s impacting their family life. She describes being on heightened alert, she said this was their dream house but you have spoiled it.”
Judge Brown ordered Strachan to return to court every three months for updates to be given on his progress.
He was also ordered to pay £1,500 in prosecution costs.