Sunday 25 March 2018

Man who caused €2.2m worth of damage after setting sofa on fire has jail term cut

The fire at North Link Retail Park which destroyed a number of retail units and for which the owners are claiming damages off Louth County Council.
The fire at North Link Retail Park which destroyed a number of retail units and for which the owners are claiming damages off Louth County Council.

Ruaidhrí Giblin

A man jailed for his role in setting fire to a sofa which spread to cause €2.2 million worth of damage and forced businesses in a shopping centre to permanently close has had his jail term cut on appeal.

James McNamee (23), with an address at Drumbilla, Dundalk, Co Louth, had pleaded guilty at Dundalk Circuit Criminal Court to one count of arson at North Link Retail Park on June 30 2010.

He was sentenced to four years imprisonment by Judge Michael O'Shea on January 31 2014.

The Court of Appeal heard today that a sofa was set on fire in the loading bay of the shopping centre and it spread to cause €2.2 million worth of damage, €745,000 of which was uninsured. Businesses were forced to close and people lost their jobs.

McNamee successfully appealed his sentence and a new sentence of four years imprisonment with the final 18 months suspended was imposed on him by the three-judge Court of Appeal.

Mr Justice Alan Mahon said McNamee, then aged 18, and three minors had climbed a fence and entered the loading bay of a retail park where a sofa was set on fire.

There was no evidence to suggest who successfully started the fire but McNamee had unsuccessfully attempted to set fire to a piece of timber, the court heard.

His three accomplices were not prosecuted due to their age and McNamee was the only one who was punished, the court heard.

Mr Justice Mahon said the fire took hold of a number of units, the damage amounted to €2.2 million and there was a significant loss of business in some instances lasting for weeks and months for others.

Some businesses were forced to close permanently and a number of people lost their jobs, Mr Justice Mahon said.

It was clear by the judges remarks that he attached a significant degree of culpability onto McNamee's shoulders, Mr Justice Mahon said. The sentencing judge had said the culprits left the scene fully aware that the sofa was on fire and they did not call the fire brigade.

Much reliance in McNamee's appeal was placed on his youth and that he did not appreciate the risks associated with setting fire to a sofa in or close to a buiding.

However, a person over 18 years of age does have significant insight into the dangers of setting fire to soft furnitute and the risks that fire could spread, Mr Justice Mahon said.

McNamee should regard himself fortunate that nobody was injured or killed, Mr Justice Mahon said and “undoubtedly a custodial sentence was required”.

Mr Justice Mahon said the sentencing judge permitted himself to be unduly swayed by the seriousness of the offence which clouded his consideration of McNamee's prospects for rehabilitation.

It was an error to a limited extent, he said and the court allowed the appeal.

Mr Justice Mahon, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice John Edwards, suspended the final 18 months of a new four year sentence.

McNamee was required to enter into his own bond of €100 to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for a period of 4 years following his release.

When asked if he undertook to be so bounds, McNamee said “yeah”.

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