A TEENAGE witness has told of the events leading up to a blaze during which a man died in a derelict building. The schoolgirl's account of the events at the former Sea Cadets building in Davenant Road last June 10, as told to police in a taped interview, was played to jurors at Croydon Crown Court yesterday. Two teenagers are standing trial on arson and manslaughter charges following the blaze and discovery of Sylwester Mendzelewski's body. The teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said she and both defendants as well as one other friend were at the building that day. She said she and others regularly went to the derelict building, which they referred to as a "haunted house" due to a rumor that someone had died there, just for something to do. The 14-year-old said her three friends entered the fire-damaged building via a door but she waited outside, so as not to ruin her uniform. About ten minutes later, her friends emerged, she said, and there was smoke inside the building. Jurors heard her tell police: "One of them mentioned there was a fire in there and then [a friend who cannot be named] said yes, but it is going to go out. "That is all they said." She added the group had left the building and eventually gone to evening youth club, only finding out later on the news that someone had died. She said the news made her "worried" about what would happen to her and her friends. The teenager said she had also visited the building the evening before, Sunday evening, with other people, but had no recollection of a fire there on that occasion. Last Friday, the jury heard from fire investigator Mark Ross who said firefighters had been called to the building the evening before due to rubbish alight in the back of the building. Mr Ross said the local station watch manager had deemed the fire deliberate and raised concerns that somebody might come back and set fire to tires in the building. Asked whether he knew firefighters had also met people living in the dilapidated building, he said he had not. Mr Ross said he thought the fire had started at the tires and its cause was "the deliberate application of a naked flame." He added Mr Menzelewski had definitely collapsed after the blaze had started, because he collapsed on top of soot.
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