Woman who started fire which killed elderly neighbour spared jail - handed 100 hours community service
Family 'disappointed' over sentencing
A woman was spared prison for starting a fire at her home which led to the death of an elderly neighbour almost two years ago.
Karen Hasson (59), of Thorndale Park, Carryduff, Co Down was given 100 hours community service along with two years on probation after pleading guilty to the manslaughter of 91-year-old Samuel Carson.
Passing the sentence on Friday at Downpatrick Crown Court, Judge Piers Grant told Hasson: "No sentence this court could pass can bring Mr Carson back to life.
"What you did was very serious. You started a fire which you did not contemplate would cause harm to anyone which resulted in the tragic loss and tragic death of an innocent individual and a decent individual.''
Mr Carson family said they were disappointed over the sentencing.
In a statement, they said: "The Carson family are disappointed by the sentence handed down by the Judge today however they are glad that this now brings closure to the terrible circumstances of their father Samuel Carson’s death and would ask for privacy from the media now to allow them to get on with their lives."
The court had previously heard that Hasson had started the fire in the garage of the marital home from a lit cigarette on September 1, 2014, following a row with her husband.
The fire spread to a neighbouring house setting a plastic oil tanks on fire which sent a river of ignited fuel to Mr Carson's oil tank, setting it ablaze before the flames engulfed his bungalow and killing him as a result of smoke inhalation.
Judge Grant said it was evident from an investigation by fire crews at the scene that Mr Carson "had tried to escape'' from his ground floor bedroom before he was "overcome by smoke''.
He added that "much loved' Mr Carson was pronounced dead at the scene as a result of the "devastating and tragic consequences'' of Hasson starting the fire which was as a result of a breakdown in her marriage with her husband and that she had she had considered taking her own life.
In a Facebook message to her husband on the day of the fire, Hasson told her husband: "May you burn in hell, you bastard".
Prosecution barrister Sam Magee told the court: "This defendant set fire to the property whilst angry with her husband and in an apparent cry for help arising from her frailties in her own mental health.''
He said that in the run up to the fire "it is apparent that over the course of time in the lead up to this date, relations between her and husband Brian were strained.
"On August 31, they had engaged in an argument over the layout of furniture in the house. Her daughter had called with her that day and noted Karen Hasson was in tears and told her that her relationship with Brian was over but this was not unusual.''
The court heard that on Monday, September 1, 2014, Mr Hasson had gone to bed around 8 pm to watch television.
Around 10.30 pm, Mr Hasson was woken from his sleep by his "agitated'' wife calling out for him.
"He asked where she was and he went downstairs. He noticed a glow through the sun room coming from the rear garden.
"He could see her standing on the path at the side of the garage. She was fully dressed and was holding a hose trying to extinguish the flames.''
Mr Hasson grabbed the hose but there was not enough pressure to put out the blaze. He moved their car out of the driveway and into the street and put his wife in the car.
The intensity of the flames had cut the power to the home and Mr Hasson used his mobile phone to call the emergency services. Several fire appliances and a command unit were dispatched to the scene.
He later told police that at that stage he noted she was very "distressed and was shaking''.
"She said it was her fault and stated she had been in the garage, had a cigarette came out of the garage and was sitting on the wall at the rear of the garden.
"She said she had heard an alarm and opened the garage door and found the fire. Mr Hasson noticed she had been drinking but not drunk.
Judge Grant heard that a neighbour said Karen Hasson told her around 1.10 am: "I tried to kill myself. It was my fault. I know I have caused this. It was my fault.''
Mrs Hasson spoke to her daughter the following day and gave a similar account, the court heard, and said she had been drinking a glass of wine when she threw her cigarette down and went inside the hosue.
Mr Magee told the court: "She got another drink and went back outside to sit on the garden wall when she heard the alarm go off.
"She told her daughter that the previous day she had transferred all her money to her daughter saying she wanted her to 'make the most of it'.
"Her daughter believes she wished to take her own life. On September 1, she discovered the £900 in her account.''
The prosecutor said that on Wednesday, September 3, Hasson woke up and told her husband: "I can't live like this. I have to take responsibility for my own actions.''
The following day, after consulting with her solicitor and her GP, she met police but gave a 'no comment' to all questions following legal advice.
During follow up police inquiries, detectives found a message on Facebook from Hasson to her husband dated September 1.
It read: "YOU REALLY ARE A BASTARD - may you burn in hell. You and xxxx really are quite alike.
"Both using women to get what you want. Mind you, I am a great believer in what goes around, comes around.
"I would like to say it was nice knowing you.....but it wasn't! You caused so much pain and hurt over the years and you seem to take enjoyment.''
Following the blaze, fire crews found Mr Carson at his neighbouring bungalow and he was "unresponsive'' and despite efforts to revive him, he died at the scene.
The court heard that Mr Hasson was considering leaving his wife in September 2014.
"He had expressed displeasure towards her for bringing photographs into the garage on the day before the fire without bringing any photographs of her two children from his first wife,'' said Mr Magee.
"What is clear is an admission by her that she was angry at her husband when she set fire to the garage as well as having a desire to end her life,'' said the prosecutor.
"We accept this was a plea to an unlawful act of manslaughter.
"She did an act which was unlawful and dangerous and that act caused the death of Mr Carson.
Mr Carson, who was a widower, was said to have been a "well-loved member of the local community'' and had been a long-standing member of Carryduff Baptist Church.
The pensioner was also an animal lover who kept horses.
Paddy Lyttle QC, defending, told the court that at the time of the incident, Karen Hasson was suffering from "significant anguish and mental distress'' and in the days before the fire she had "reached the end of her tether''.
He said it was clear that she had been suffering from a "serious depressive episode'' and following the fire she required admission to hospital for two months during which she was under "24 hour a day supervision as she was classed as a suicide risk''.
"She has asked me to express the most heartfelt sympathy, her condolences, her sorrow, her regret, her remorse for what she did. These are not crocodile tears,'' said Mr Lyttle QC.
"Whatever sentence is imposed by this court it will be nothing in comparison to the guilt she will have to live with for the rest of her life.
"She will carry that guilt for her wrong doing and her responsibility for the death of of Mr Carson. She will carry that with her until her last day.''
The defence QC urged the court not to send Hasson to prison saying a pre-sentence report stated she could be dealt with by way of a combined community service and probation order.
Sentencing today, Judge Grant said it was evident from the medical reports that Hasson had been suffering from mental and psychiatric problems over many years for which she had received treatment.
He said that "as time passed these problems were exacerbated'' following the death of her own mother who had also suffered from a mental health illness.
A psychiatric report said that Hasson a previous history of self harming but "had not intention of causing harm to anyone else''.
The judge said that a Victim Impact Report from Mr Carson's family, friends and neighbours described him as "a much loved, a very good and decent man and was going to be sadly missed''.
Offering the family the condolences of the court, Judge Grant said the loss Of Mr Carson "in such a devastating incident in such dreadful circumstances'' was something his family, friends and neighbours would have to live for "much of their lives. There loss is irreplaceable.''
The judge said that Hasson had expressed her "sorrow, remorse and regret'' which he accepted was genuine and hoped this would "help in assuaging the grief'' of Mr Carson's family.
Stating that her culpability was "at the lower end of the scale'', he added that that "the harm caused was at the highest level''.
But Judge Grant said that he was satisfied that she did not pose a "future risk of offending''
"It should be accepted that no court can bring Mr Carson back to life....and no sentence imposed can recoil them to their loss.''
Describing the offence as "very serious'', the judge said the "custodial threshold had been passed and I must consider the imposition of a custodial sentence in a sense to mark the public's concern and also to protect the public from future harm''.
Judge Grant said that there were no aggravating factors adding there were a number of mitigating factors which included her early admissions to the offences, her remorse, her mental health condition and her clear record.
Saying the courts had to impose sentences of both "justice and mercy'', he added: "I have considered the pre-sentence report and the medical reports and in all the circumstance I consider the sentence to be one of a combination order, combining community service and probation.
"I should point out that this is not a soft option. It will demand much from you and will require your consent.''
Asking Hasson to stand in the dock, Judge Grant said: "Do you consent to this combination order?'' Hasson replied: "Yes, Your Honour.''
The judge imposed the maximum penalty of 100 hours community service and two years on probation, and warned Hasson: "You will not get a second chance. There will be serious consequences if you do not comply with this combination order.
"If you don't comply or commit any further offences, this matter will be brought back to court and will be sentenced again and a significant sentence will be imposed. Do you understand?'' Hasson replied: "Yes, Your Honour.
As the sentence was passed, some members of Mr Carson's family sobbed in the public gallery.
After the hearing, Detective Sergeant Ian Davis, from the PSNI’s Serious Crime Branch, said: “The reckless act carried out by the defendant led to the needless death of a much loved father, grandfather and great grandfather.
“Police carried out a rigorous investigation and in partnership with the PPS gathered the evidence required to bring about this defendant’s guilty plea.
“This was a tragic case and the thoughts of the investigation team are very much with Mr Carson’s family today."