A COUPLE'S blazing row was almost literally that when one of them poured petrol over the floor - and the other fetched a lighter.

Susan Randall, 40, and her partner David Howells, 43, were 'one spark away' from disaster, a judge told them at Gloucester crown court today.

The couple, of Fosse Close, Cirencester, were both drunk at the time but have been so scared by the way they behaved that they have given up alcohol, the court was told.

Appearing on Valentine's Day to plead guilty to a charge of affray, the pair arrived hand in hand and Judge Jamie Tabor QC remarked that they appeared to have settled the argument which flared up so dramatically on October 26 last year.

Howells, a building maintenance worker, denied a charge of having a jerry can of petrol intending to use it to destroy property - and Randall, a Co-op store team leader, denied having a lighter with the same intent.

Those charges were not proceeded with by prosecutor Janine Wood.

She told the court "They are partners and they were at home on the night of October 26 arguing. They argued for some time.

"It came to the point where Ms Randall's sixteen year old daughter Gemma separated them.

"At that point Howells went into the garden and Gemma went upstairs. When she came down again she could smell petrol.

"Her mother and Mr Howells were arguing again. She saw petrol all over the floor in the dining room and she heard someone say 'If you're going to trash everything you might as well let it go up in flames.'

"She grabbed the lighter and shouted at Mr Howells and she called for her sister to call the police."

Ms Wood said police and the fire service arrived. By that time the fire officer found only a small patch of petrol still on the floor but said even a spark from a light switch could have made it explode and blow out the windows, causing flash burns to anyone nearby.

Howells told police he had poured out the petrol to call his partner's bluff during the argument, said the prosecutor. He insisted he did not intend to cause any harm to anyone.

Randall admitted she had got out a lighter but also said it was to call her partner's bluff. She also said she had no intention to cause any damage or injury.

Nicola Colwill, defending. said Randall and Howells had never offended in any way before and have full time employment. Their home is owned by the Bromford Housing Association.

Judge Tabor commented "They are respectable people in their forties and they had a row of very considerable proportions, fuelled by alcohol."

He asked what the couple were doing about their drink problem. Miss Colwill said they had not sought any professional help - they had simply both stopped drinking because they were so frightened by what could have happened that night.

Judge Tabor told the pair "It is always very remarkable when two respectable people appear in a crown court dock.

"It looks like you had a drink fuelled row which got completely out of control. You should be ashamed of that. I accept that neither of you intended to cause injury to the other by setting fire to things but you were one spark away from injuring yourselves and others.

"This was grossly irresponsible behaviour. You must be punished because you endangered people.

"You have both stopped drinking and that is the most sensible thing you could do. "

He sentenced them each to do 120 hours of unpaid work and ordered them each to pay £100 costs and a £60 victim surcharge.

The couple declined to comment as they left court hand in hand and smiling.