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22 January 2015, 16:16 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50
A heroin addict cleared of murdering a disabled mother of two in a fire in Middlesbrough to cover up evidence of a break-in was described as ``abhorrent'' for repeatedly targeting her.
David McCabe, 32, was jailed for five and a half years for twice burgling Teresa Ryan, who died of smoke inhalation on the night of her 50th birthday which she had celebrated with her two sons.
McCabe admitted he broke in to her home that night and snatched her handbag but denied starting a fire at her home in North Ormesby in July.
Miss Ryan, who had Huntington's disease, got home at 9.50pm from the birthday meal and 40 minutes later McCabe was using her mobile phone to try to buy drugs, Teesside Crown Court heard. CCTV showed he had been lurking outside her home waiting for her to return.
A fire started on her bed, setting off a smoke alarm at 11.20pm. When a fire crew arrived they found her dead on a sofa.
A jury cleared McCabe of murder and manslaughter after a seven-day trial.
The heroin addict, who had also broken in to her home the day before to steal her television, said he grabbed her handbag but denied struggling with her.
Forensic experts disagreed over the cause of the fire, and the jury heard Miss Ryan had accidentally started a fire in her home previously.
Sentencing, Judge Simon Bourne-Arton QC, the Recorder of Middlesbrough, said McCabe had been an addict for 15 years and had a long criminal record involving dishonesty and drugs offences.
``You preyed on Teresa Ryan, you did so in order to fund your addictions.''
``She was at the very least intimidated by you, if not fearful and you knew that.''
``Teresa was exceedingly vulnerable. You knew that she was physically vulnerable, you were well aware of all her frailties.''
Outside court, Detective Chief Inspector Steve Jermy said:
``I think he was driven by his addiction to heroin and alcohol and lived his day-to-day life to fund that addiction."
``It is absolutely abhorrent that somebody could hand-pick a vulnerable disabled lady and systematically target her just to fund a drugs habit.''
The dead woman's family wept when McCabe was cleared.
Her sister Carol Ryan said outside court:
``He preyed on Teresa, taking advantage of her vulnerability. He lied from start to finish, only admitting certain aspects at the last minute when he had no option."
``He will now serve a sentence for burglary which, we the family, feel is insufficient."
``We as a family have now to try to move on. However, we feel justice has not been served for Teresa.''