TERRIFIED Loose Women star Denise Welch has told how she feared being burnt alive after a stalker set fire to her home.
The ex-Coronation Street actress fled from the £1million home she shares with her artist husband Lincoln Townley as the late-night blaze erupted.
Denise, 63, said: “We thought he was trying to kill us.
“It was just terrifying. It doesn’t bear thinking about.”
Her ordeal began in September 2020 and only ended this month when deranged arsonist Toraq Wyngard, 53, was jailed for nearly eight years after admitting charges of stalking and arson.
CCTV footage shows the former model creeping around outside the couple’s luxury home in Wilmslow, Cheshire — close to a clutch of Manchester United players.
Denise, who has also appeared in Hollyoaks, said: “I remember that we’d been to the pub that night for dinner, and I’d gone to bed early, at about 10pm, leaving Lincoln with his son, Lewis, and my brother-in-law Duncan, downstairs watching a boys’ film, volume turned up full blast as boys tend to do.
“Suddenly, I heard Lincoln screaming. I ran downstairs in my pyjamas and saw huge sprawling flames outside the house.
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“A lady had seen the fire outside as she was driving past and knocked on the front door to alert us.
“Thank God she did because otherwise who knows if I would be here today.
“Lewis called 999, and at this point I remember Lincoln jumping into my car and moving it out of the drive.
“Within seconds of him moving it, flames started spreading rapidly.
“They would have caught my car and the whole thing would have gone up and exploded.
“I could see the flames trying to catch the trees too as it has been a hot day.
“I could see the fire catching onto the garage and everything melting at the top.
“The fire brigade were very prompt but for anybody who’s ever waited for them, they’ll know that the wait seems like forever.
“They said if they hadn’t turned up when they did, without a doubt it could have been a disaster.”
Immediately after the fireball, shocked Denise and Lincoln checked footage on their CCTV system, which he had installed just weeks before.
It showed Wyngard, a former Burberry model, roaming around outside the property seconds beforehand.
He circled a skip on the drive just two yards from their house before setting it alight using a fluid.
Denise said: “Lincoln immediately scoured the footage on his phone and before I knew it had given chase to the man and run into the graveyard opposite. Thank God he didn’t catch him.
“Lincoln was so shaken by all of this. He’s a lion by nature, a protector and he felt so helpless.”
The footage was handed to cops who arrested Wyngard hours later. When he was held by officers, he was found to be carrying a four-inch knife.
And when Denise and Lincoln looked at Wyngard’s social media, they were left horrified when they spotted one of him alongside unsuspecting Denise.
‘We turned into detectives’
She said: “We turned into TV detectives Dempsey and Makepeace, scouring over every aspect of social media to see if I appeared in this man’s photos.
“We saw that I appeared in one photo, at a Manchester charity run, and obviously handed over all our CCTV footage to [the police]. Who knows what would have happened otherwise?”
Denise, who played Coronation Street landlady Natalie Horrocks from 1997 to 2000, detailed how she and Lincoln, 49, were devastated as they waited for Wyngard to be locked up.
She said: “We didn’t know if he was mentally ill, if he was going to get released, if he had a gang working for him who would continue with his work and target us.
“It was utterly terrifying and for six months it completely changed the way I lived my life.
“All I could think was, ‘Why, why, why, why is he doing this to me and my family? What have I ever done to that man?’.
“Every time our security lights went off — set off by a cat or a fox — I was terrified.
“I stopped sleeping, I had nightmares, it affected my emotions.
“I felt I couldn’t talk about it, not even to my friends in case it jeopardised the case.
“Lincoln started getting up at 5am with me when I had an early call for Hollyoaks, and walking me to my car, because we didn’t know that he wouldn’t be lurking outside, ready to attack.
“He was found with a knife and you only have a knife if you work with knives or you’re going to use the knife.
“I’m not a nervy person by nature — I’d always felt safe in my own house — but when someone sets fire to your home, it changes you forever.”
Despite his arrest, Wyngard turned up at Denise’s home again in February last year.
CCTV caught him in the days before surveying the property.
A garden gate was damaged and graffiti daubed branding Denise a “witch” and “pimp” with a sinister-looking upside-down cross.
A few weeks earlier, Denise found a letter in her postbox quoting a Bible passage, John 3:16.
It said: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. It also featured another cross.
Wyngard, of Salford, Gtr Manchester, was sentenced to seven years and seven months at Chester crown court after earlier admitting a charge of stalking her and causing serious alarm or distress between September 18, 2020, and February 1, 2021.
He also admitted charges of arson, possession of a blade and criminal damage.
Wyngard, who has a history of mental health problems, was originally due to be sentenced in October last year.
But on the day, he indicated he intended changing his pleas — causing a delay in the case.
During her ordeal, Denise was supported by Cheshire Police’s Harm Reduction Unit, which has officers specially-trained to help stalking victims.
She said: “With stalking, it’s always been that thing of, ‘We can’t do anything until he kills you’. The Harm Reduction Unit was there for us as a family, day and night.
“If it wasn’t for them, I probably would have had PTSD, and needed therapy — they were my therapy. I just wish that every county could have one.”
The terrifying fireball ordeal came in the same month as Denise’s dad Vin died from pneumonia after a pulmonary fibrosis battle.
While she tried to shield him from what was going on, he was aware of her troubles.
She added: “I remember driving to Cheshire police station for a three-hour interview, and at the time was waiting to hear if my dad had cancer or not.
“This man was taking away time I needed to be dealing with what was really important in my life.
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“My fear, my trauma, became anger at this point. This man tried to destroy my wonderful life. I’m just so grateful he is now behind bars.
“I feel a weight has been lifted from my shoulders, and now I just need to try and look forward again and hope that more can be done now for the victims of stalking or the victims of arson.”