A man who tried to set fire to his estranged wife after she refused to bail him out of his debts was jailed for 16 months yesterday. In sentencing Kau Pui-chuk, 51, District Court Judge Richard Day said it was fortunate the attempt on February 10 had been half-hearted. Kau had pleaded guilty to one count of attempted arson. The court heard Kau married Lau Choi-lan in 1977 and they had two children before she filed for divorce in March last year. The separation was a bitter one and Kau, who had accumulated gambling debts, continued to ask her for money. On the day of the incident, Ms Lau was working with her brother, Lau Chi-yung, at his metal workshop in Tsuen Wan when Kau appeared. The defendant poured a bottle of thinner on the floor and held up a lighter. Before he could ignite the lighter, Mr Lau grabbed it away from him. When police arrived, Kau told them he wanted to embrace Ms Lau and die with her. Further investigations revealed Kau had five more bottles of thinner in his bag. Kau also told police he wanted to die in front of his wife because she refused to help him pay his debts. Judge Day said the offence was a serious one punishable by life imprisonment. 'In Hong Kong, arson is taken more seriously because of the particular danger of the risk of multi-storeyed buildings in built-up areas.' He said in this case the attempted arson occurred in an industrial area. 'But this in turn creates its own risk,' he said. 'Industrial buildings frequently carry flammable materials and this workshop was on the ground floor and perhaps poses a risk to those on the floors above.' Judge Day said the fact no one was seriously injured had more to do with Mr Lau's bravery and prompt action than Kau's intentions. He reduced the sentencing starting point from two years to 16 months.