Friday 30 September 2016

'We can never again be together' - family's grief as female arsonist jailed for attack that killed disabled grandmother

Elaine Keogh

Published 10/05/2016 | 20:16

Nicola Kavanagh (pictured) was sentenced today for the manslaughter of Eva Berrill. Ms Kavanagh received a 12 year sentence with 4 suspended. Picture Ciara Wilkinson
Nicola Kavanagh (pictured) was sentenced today for the manslaughter of Eva Berrill. Ms Kavanagh received a 12 year sentence with 4 suspended. Picture Ciara Wilkinson

A woman who set fire to a house causing the death of a disabled grandmother has been jailed for eight years.

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In a victim impact statement the woman’s family said they cannot forgive the accused and she inflicted “a terrible pain,” on them.

Nicola Kavanagh (28) of Rathmullen Park Drogheda admitted the manslaughter of Eva Berrill (73). She also pleaded guilty to arson to the Berrill family home on the Chord Road, Drogheda, Co Louth.

Judge Michael O’Shea praised the courageous actions of the man who dragged Mrs Berrill from her downstairs bedroom after the fire was started about 12.50am on August 16, 2014.

In a victim impact statement Eva's widower Ollie revealed his heartbreak at the death.

“We cannot forgive Nicola Kavanagh for what she has done. She has broken up our family, we can never again be together, she has inflicted a terrible pain on our family.”

The court heard Mrs Berrill, who was once a well known and popular singer, had been paralysed and needed a wheelchair after a stroke in 2002.

She died in the burns unit of St James Hospital in Dublin 96 days after the fire.  She had burns to 12pc of her body and was not strong enough to tolerate surgery.

Ollie and Eva Berrill
Ollie and Eva Berrill

Senior Investigating Officer, detective inspector Pat Marry said that CCTV captured Kavanagh setting fire to the net curtains in the downstairs bedroom that Mrs Berrill slept in.

The court heard it was a warm Summer’s night and the window had been left open.

Det Inspector Marry said Kavangh could be “clearly seen” lighting paper and putting it in the open window.  This paper went out and she had lit a second piece of paper which catches the net curtain.  “You can see the flames on CCTV” he told Judge O’Shea.

Kavanagh and three men in her company walked past the house again at which point it is obvious the fire has taken hold, he added.

A member of the public raised the alarm and ran across the road to McDonnell’s public house where Mr Berrill was. He had, the court heard, checked on Eva, just a short time earlier.

Judge O’Shea also praised the actions of Colin Carter who had “fearlessly and courageously  put his life at risk” by going into the house and dragging Mrs Berrill out of her room and onto the street.

Kavangh’s defence barrister said setting the fire was “a random act,” and there was no premeditation.

He said she never set out to hurt anyone and she will live with regret for the rest of her life. 

She was truly sorry and truly ashamed and “never intended any of this to happen,” Mr Roderick O’Hanlon added.

He said she hopes that one day in the future the Berrill family can forgive her and then she can forgive herself.

Kavanagh had been born into a ‘catastrophically poor family situation,’ where her mother was an alcoholic and her father left when she was young, Mr O’Hanlon said.

Kavanagh had a chronic alcohol and drug problem and had also been on Xanex and pain medication at the time.

In a victim impact statement, read by their son Des, Mr Oliver Berrill described how he was his wife’s main carer.

“I spent my time looking after her. I did this with love, love for my wife, love for the mother of my children and  was happy to continue doing this until the day god called her home.”

“On the night Nicola Kavanagh lit a fire in our home, Eva was on her own in her bed. This was not the end that anyone would want for their loved one and certainly not how I imagined myself and Eva would be separated.”

Mr Berrill also said: ”I wanted to care for her until she needed her days naturally. Nicola Kavanagh has taken that from me.”

He said her family had visited her every day in hospital and watched her suffer. “We suffered too. We lived in hope she would pull through and return home to her family where she belonged.”

He said Eva was “the heart of our family.  We miss her every day and we are angry that her end came too early at the hands of Nicola Kavanagh.”

“We cannot forgive Nicola Kavanagh for what she has done. She has broken up our family, we can never again be together, she has inflicted a terrible pain on our family.”

Judge O’Shea said the consequences of Kavanagh’s actions were ‘catastrophic’ for the Berrill family.  He accepted she did not intend to go out and unlawfully kill Eva Berrill but he said she was ‘reckless in the extreme.’

She did not care that people could be living or sleeping in the house, he added.

He imposed 12 years for each offence, the sentences are to run concurrently and he suspected the last 4 years of each on her entering into a good behaviour bond for 4 years on her release from prison.

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