Thursday 22 February 2018

Man convicted of causing boy's death 13 years ago by setting a children's makeshift den on fire gets 15-year jail sentence

Stephen Hughes
Stephen Hughes
Elizabeth Hughes and (inset) her son, Stephen

Declan Brennan

The man convicted last month of causing the death of a boy 13 years ago by setting a children's makeshift den on fire has received a 15 prison sentence.

Stephen Hughes was 12 years old in 2001 when he died in the fire in the den where he had been sleeping overnight.

Dermot Griffin (54) of Ballyfermot Road, Ballyfermot had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to manslaughter at Rossfield Avenue, Tallaght on September 1, 2001.

After a 13 day trial last May a jury found him guilty by majority. This morning Judge Patricia Ryan imposed the sentence and backdated it to November 2012, when Griffin was taken into custody.

In a victim impact statement read to the court the victim’s mother Elizabeth Hughes said that her whole family have lived with the "unbelievable pain" of losing her first born son.

She said: "He was a beautiful bright ray of sunshine. He was just a child. The last 13 years will always be the longest and saddest I have endured. I pray that from today my son will be able to rest in peace knowing that justice has finally been done".

Detective Sergeant Mary Fitzpatrick told Mary Rose Gearty SC, prosecuting, that Griffin’s 39 previous convictions include convictions for assault causing harm, burglary and robbery. They go back to offences committed in 1977, dealt with in the Children’s Court.

In November 1996 the Central Criminal Court imposed a sentence of four years imprisonment for offences under the firearms act. Griffin also served a seven year sentence after he was convicted of drug dealing in 1985.

Bernard Condon SC, defending, said his client was a father of four who was a heroin addict at the time of the offence.  He submitted that this was not a case of an intentional act of killing someone.

Ms Gearty said the Director of Public Prosecutions put this case at the severe end in terms of manslaughter offences.

The main evidence in the case came from three witnesses who placed Griffin at the scene. Under cross examination they admitted they were abusing heroin at the time and had given statements to gardai at the time of the fatal fire which conflicted with their later statements and their evidence to the jury.

Ms Gearty said that a "very dramatic change" came in the case in 2012 when one of these witnesses, Tracey Deegan, came forward and told gardai she had lied in 2001 to cover for Griffin.

Ms Deegan (38) said that Griffin, her former partner, wanted to burn the hut because “he didn't want joyriders in the area, he didn't want guards in the area”.

Daryl Hall, who was aged 14 at the time, described how he scrambled out of the burning hut and tried in vain to rescue his friend.

He said he was woken by screams. “I heard screaming and hands pushing on my back. I remember hearing ‘go go’, and ‘aagh’.”

Mr Hall said he could see nothing except smoke. He said he pushed aside a pallet acting as a wall and pulled himself through and up onto an outside wall.

“I thought he was behind me. When I got on the wall, standing on the wall, I jumped back down. I tried to lift up the door, I heard him coughing,” he said.

He was unable to lift the hut open again and got back up on the wall and started screaming for help.

He said that a number of people came over including Griffin. The witness said the accused asked, “was there someone in there?” and then put his hands on his head.

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