A single father set fire to his own home in Bideford with a seven-year-old girl trapped inside as part of an elaborate deception designed to show he was victim of a hate campaign, a court heard.

Darren Smith wanted to scare his ex-partner into re-starting their relationship by making her believe they were both under threat from a mystery gang of attackers, Exeter Crown Court was told on Friday (November 1).

The prosecution said he hatched his plot after learning that she had started dating someone else and wanted her to believe they were both being targeted by the other man's jealous partner.

He staged a series of events which left his ex-girlfriend and her children so frightened they fled their home, the court was told.

He slashed the tyres of her car, threw a rock through a window while she and the children were watching Peppa Pig, and sent her terrifying death threats, purporting to come from the other woman.

He also claimed he had been followed and attacked by men in balaclavas, who on April 27 started the fire which trapped him and the little girl in their flat above the Quaker Meeting Room in Honestone Street, Bideford.

The girl was rescued by members of a choir who were on their way to a nearby pub. One drove their Range Rover onto the pavement outside and climbed on the roof to rescue the girl and her pet tortoise.

Smith told police his house had been torched by mystery intruders but CCTV showed no one near it and other footage showed him buying a can of petrol earlier that day.

Van driver Smith, aged 40, admitted arson, harassment, and making threats to kill and was jailed for five years, five months by Judge David Evans.

The judge banned him from contacting with the victim or returning to the area where she lives.

He told him:"You were trying to scare the victim into allowing you back in her life, something you wanted and she did not. You were using these fabricated incidents in an attempt to manipulate her attitude towards you."

Kelly Scrivener, prosecuting, outlined the case and said damage from the fire totalled £100,000.

Michael Brown, defending, said Smith was suffering from undiagnosed and untreated depression and acted out of character.