Owner behind manor blaze, judge rules in insurance case
A MAN probably burnt down his €1.2m Georgian manor home or got someone else to do it, High Court president Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns ruled yesterday.
Computer engineer Josef Michovsky (65) denied he caused the fire which destroyed the 137-year-old, 11-bed Glebe House in Dromahair, Leitrim, which had an outdoor swimming pool along with various outbuildings and a courtyard.
Mr Justice Kearns dismissed his claim for an order that Allianz Ireland pay him €906,789 on the insurance policy he had with them arising out of the fire in the early hours of August 13, 2002.
Bought in 1991 by German-born Mr Michovsky for €240,000 and refurbished, the house had become too big for his family's needs and he wanted to move to Italy.
It had been on the market in 2001 and 2002 for €1.2m but failed to attract any serious offers, even when the price was reduced to €900,000, the court heard.
Mr Michovsky claimed the blaze was started accidentally or by an intruder.
Allianz alleged fraud, claiming it was started by him or by someone else who he had told to tamper with the oil-fired central heating system for the house.
Yesterday, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said the insurance company had discharged the onus the law imposes on it when alleging fraud.
Through an accumulation of forensic evidence, he was satisfied on the balance of probabilities, and as a matter of inference from the evidence, Mr Michovsky "did cause the fire, either on his own or in conjunction with some other person".
The possibility that the fire was accidental was "comprehensively demolished" when fire investigators and gardai discovered a detached and disassembled valve connecting the oil supply to the boiler, the judge said.
It might well have been assumed by a person setting such a fire that interference with this valve would not come to light, he added.
Every door inside the house and virtually every exterior window had also been left open, something which would greatly facilitate the spread of fire, he said. The intruder theory seemed therefore to have no basis in likelihood and was only a "remote possibility".
The judge also said he found Mr Michovsky, as a witness, to be wary, defensive and untypical of a man who believed the gardai had failed to apprehend an unknown intruder and arsonist.
If he had believed an intruder was responsible, he certainly did not relentlessly pursue the gardai to bring such a wrongdoer to justice but had sat back, lodged his insurance claim, answered questions he was asked "and no more".
When asked in the witness box how diesel fuel was found under the gas cooker in the kitchen, he said he had no idea and "commenced laughing", the judge said.
Mr Michovsky was also unable to explain why he offered firemen alcoholic drinks as they were working on bringing the fire under control, he said.
His explanation for the disassembled boiler valve and fire accelerants being found in different places was that someone in the locality might have started the fire as a kind of "trick" on him and his family.
He was "a somewhat odd and unconvincing witness", the judge said.
He also found many aspects of Mr Michovsky's account of events "puzzling in the extreme", including why the family was sleeping in an annex on the night of the fire and why three suitcases had been left unpacked in a games room following the family's return from a holiday in Germany a week before the fire.
The judge also found the evidence of both his wife and daughter to be defensive, incomplete and unhelpful.