25 Sept 2022

Man who threatened his family in Limerick by starting fire to be imprisoned

Man who threatened his family in Limerick by starting fire to be imprisoned

A MAN who started a fire after splashing petrol on his estranged wife and their children has been ordered to present himself to gardai by this Friday to begin a one-year prison sentence.

The now 41-year-old, who can’t be named for legal reasons, had pleaded guilty to several charges including arson, criminal damage and breaching the terms of a Barring Order.

During a sentencing hearing last summer, Garda Cathal O’Gorman told Limerick Circuit Court the offences occurred at a house in the city shortly before 6pm on March 17, 2017 and again the following day.

He said after gardai responded to reports of a disturbance on St Patrick’s Day, they were informed the defendant had tried to set fire to part of the family home.

The garda told John O’Sullivan BL, prosecuting, the man was living in a “granny flat” adjacent to the house and that he and his wife had an altercation which escalated.

After arming himself with a drill, the accused broke the front door and entered the main house where he poured petrol on an internal door which he then set on fire.

Garda O’Gorman said the defendant also ‘splashed’ some petrol on his wife and children who were terrified. The fire was quickly put out and no serious damage was caused.

A 12-month suspended sentence was imposed but this was appealed by the Director of Public Prosecutions who argued the sentence was "unduly lenient".

At the Court of Appeal, Mr O'Sullivan submitted in written documents that the sentencing judge was not justified in imposing such lenient sentences, having regard to the aggravating factors.

He said that this was not an exceptional case warranting a wholly suspended sentence.

“The decision to impose a wholly suspended sentence was unjustified in this case as it was not founded on a sound evidential basis,” he argued.

“A further significant aggravating feature was that the respondent repeatedly breached a barring order. The sentences imposed deviated from the norm to such a degree that when looked at globally these sentences are unduly lenient.”

Jack Nicholas BL responded on behalf of the man, saying that a judge must be afforded a ‘significant margin of appreciation’ in the selection of a sentence.

“It is respectfully submitted the learned sentencing judge kept a balance between the particular circumstances of the offending and the relevant personal circumstances of the respondent,” he said.

“It is submitted that the sentences as imposed were adequate and justifiable and fall within the permissible range,” he added.

Court President Justice George Birmingham, who sat with Justice Isobel Kennedy and Justice Úna Ni Raifeartaigh, took a number of hours to consider the case before returning with a decision.

Justice Ni Raifeartaigh said that there was a risk of harm to the man’s wife, children and their home.

She noted that his wife had been terrified and that the man had been taken into custody. However, he returned to his house on his release the very next day and again became aggressive.

“Both episodes took place when there was a barring order in place,” she noted, describing this as an aggravating factor.

He had several convictions for breaching the barring order by the time he was sentenced for this attack.

“It appears to have been accepted that alcohol was the root cause,” she said, adding that this was not a mitigating factor.

She said the fact that this crime had been perpetrated by a family member may have a greater impact on the victims because the behaviour comes from a trusted person.

She said that this was not an exceptional case that merited a suspended sentence.

“It was unduly lenient,” she said.

The court imposed a two-year sentence on the threat to damage property charge.

It suspended the final year on condition he stay away from the injured party and their dependents, stay away from the family home and be of sober habits in public.

The man must present himself at his local garda station to begin his sentence on Friday.

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