€280,000 arsonist walks away with a suspended sentence
THE dismayed co-owner of a car dealership set ablaze in a €280,000 arson attack said last night the justice system had ignored his plight after one of the perpetrators received a suspended sentence.
Patrick Harcourt (22), of Dunne Street Flats, Dublin 1, pleaded guilty to causing "damage by fire" to vehicles at Fort Motors, Walkinstown in Dublin, and was given a three-year suspended sentence at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
CCTV footage showed Harcourt, who has 12 previous convictions, arriving outside the dealership in a car just minutes before the attack at midnight on March 12, 2007.
One of his passengers emerged from the car with a petrol container, before returning from the premises minutes later and fleeing the scene.
Gardai told the court that more than €280,000 worth of damage had been done.
This was compounded by long-term damage to the viability of the business.
Cyril Molloy, who co-owns the 50-year-old family dealership with his brother Paul, said there were "uninsured losses of about another €100,000" that were not included in that estimate.
"It sends a very clear signal to those people who mean harm that they can go and do what they like and even if they are caught red-handed they will walk free," he told the Irish Independent last night.
Mr Molloy's business, which had been the victim of four arson attacks over a two-year period, was "ravaged", he said, before the recession even had a chance to bring the motor industry to its knees.
"This happened back in 2007, before the economic downturn, so this attack meant that we were being ravaged for two years prior to the recession," he said.
"Arson is a very serious crime, and such was the extent of the damage that I don't think you could have a more serious arson attack, barring somebody getting killed. The criminal-justice system has effectively ignored us as victims.
"There is nothing we can do. That's the criminal-justice system we have in this country.
"The gardai and the detective unit in Crumlin did everything they could -- they caught someone red-handed.
"It has been a huge ordeal for all of us here. The personal effect that it has had on our own family and the families of our 50 employees has been something else.
"Everybody's jobs were put in jeopardy and we struggled to keep our insurance in place.
"We're a tightly knit business and nobody here can believe that someone who pleads guilty could walk free."
Judge Patricia Ryan said the court took into account the serious nature of the charge and the dire financial consequences that it had for Fort Motors.
She also said the court noted Harcourt's personal circumstances, in that his drug-addicted mother died in 2001, leaving his sister, who was 15 years old at the time, to raise him.
In suspending the sentence, Judge Ryan said the court had taken into account Harcourt's good employment record, his standing in the community, his early plea of guilty and testimonials to his good character.
Garda Sgt Barry Butler said 11 vehicles had been completely destroyed in the blaze, while 17 others were damaged.
There was also €46,348 worth of damage to the building. He said the dealership, which employs 50 people, suffered a total loss of €284,202 and its insurance cost has since risen to €250,000.
Sgt Butler told prosecutor Pat McGrath that investigating gardai tracked down Harcourt using CCTV footage of his car's registration details.
They also placed him at the scene through cell-site analysis on a mobile phone seized during a raid on his home, despite him naming his girlfriend as an alibi.
Sgt Butler said Harcourt gave a different alibi once gardai confirmed that he hadn't been with his girlfriend on the night, as he had claimed.