Tuesday 16 July 2019

Children's soccer referee charged with arson that caused €1.8m damage to gym denied bail

Gardai at scene of burnt-out car at entrance of Flyefit gym. Coolock retail park, Malahide Road, Dublin.
Gardai at scene of burnt-out car at entrance of Flyefit gym. Coolock retail park, Malahide Road, Dublin.
Andrew Phelan

Andrew Phelan

A children's soccer referee has been accused of carrying out a €1.8m arson attack at a gym that was "deliberately set alight" after a car was crashed through its front doors.

The gym, in north Dublin, was torched when two men got out of the car and doused it in a flammable liquid, the flames engulfing the vehicle and spreading to the building, a court heard.

Mark Harte (25), who is alleged to have been one of the two culprits, was refused bail when he appeared in Dublin District Court charged with arson. Judge Brian O'Shea remanded him in custody for the preparation of a book of evidence after hearing he was denying the allegations.

Mr Harte, of Collins Avenue East, Clontarf, Dublin, is accused of causing damage by fire to the Flyefit gym at Coolock Retail Park, Malahide Road, on July 25, 2016.

Garda Neil Plunkett said the DPP had directed trial on indictment.

Garda Plunkett objected to bail due to the "nature, degree and seriousness" of the alleged offence and the potential penalty - arson carried a maximum sentence on conviction of life imprisonment, he said.

Outlining the proposed evidence, he said a car was driven through the front doors of the 24-hour gym at 2.20am.

The occupants of the car - the driver and front-seat passenger - then doused the vehicle in a flammable substance and deliberately set it alight.

The car became engulfed in flames, which spread to the building, causing €1.8m worth of damage, Garda Plunkett said.

Two staff members were working in the gym at the time. There was no evidence anyone was injured.

Garda Plunkett said the incident was captured on CCTV, which showed the car pulling up in front of the gym and the front-seat passenger getting out, carrying a plastic container and running toward the front door of the building.

He was seen giving a hand signal to the driver, who drove through the doors.

The driver then exited the car and both men poured a substance over the car and set it alight before fleeing to the corner of the retail park, Garda Plunkett said.

Both appeared to be wearing latex gloves and DNA evidence was taken from a glove that was discarded.

Applying for bail, defence solicitor Michael French said Mr Harte denied the allegations against him and was entitled to a presumption of innocence.

The accused was in receipt of social welfare and looking for work as a labourer.

He was a "promising association footballer" in his time and had gone on a scholarship to the University of Tennessee, Mr French said.

He had returned home and was still involved in refereeing underage matches.

It was a "serious matter by any standards" and involved almost €2m worth of damage, Judge O'Shea said.

"Another factor" he considered was that there were two people in the gym at the time.

He refused bail and remanded the defendant in custody to appear in Cloverhill District Court on a date next week.

Irish Independent

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