Sunday 25 August 2019

Arsonist who burned down gym causing almost €2m worth of damage jailed

Criminal gang forced me to carry out attack because I owed them drugs debt, man tells court

Gardai at the scene of the arson attack on the Flyefit gym in Coolock in 2016
Gardai at the scene of the arson attack on the Flyefit gym in Coolock in 2016

Declan Brennan

A man who burned down a gym causing almost €2million worth of damage has been jailed for six-and-a-half years.

Mark Harte (26) said that he carried out the arson in July 2016 for a criminal gang that he owned a drug debt to because of his cocaine use.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that a car was rammed through the front glass doors of the north Dublin Flyefit gym and stopped at the security turnstiles inside the doors.

Harte had left the car before this and was holding a container. CCTV footage played to the court showed a bright flash of light before the car went up on fire.

Judge Pauline Codd said that the footage was chilling and sinister.

Keith Spencer BL, defending, said the crime was completely out of character and his client deeply regrets the harm he caused. He said his client made sure there were no individuals in the vicinity of the car at the time.

Counsel said that Harte went to door of the gym to make sure there was nobody there and then gave a sign to the driver of the car. Detective Garda Neill Plunkett said he believed that Harte was saying ‘the coast is clear’ before they drove the car in.

Judge Codd said that two employees were in the building and had to leave. She said they had a frightening experience.

Harte was linked to the scene from DNA found on white latex gloves found near the scene. A neighbour told gardaí about a suspicious car seen parked in the area and provided them with a photograph taken on his mobile phone.

This car was linked to Harte and he was arrested at his home on Collins Avenue. Donnycarney. He pleaded guilty to arson at Flyefit gym, Coolock on July 25, 2016.

The court heard that the owners of the building, Irish Life, set the costs of damage repairs at €316,000 and the loss of rent at €85,000. Flyefit put the cost of damage to equipment at €915,000 and the loss of business at €569,000.

Judge Codd set a headline sentence of 11 years but reduced this to nine years after noting evidence that Harte was petrified because of a drug debt and was worried for the safety of his family. She also noted he was assessed as being at a low risk of re-offending. She said he had made good progress in drug treatment and came from a good family.

The judge suspended the final two and a half years on condition he attend addiction counselling. The sentence is backdated to September 2018.

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