Friday 24 November 2017

Mother's tears as son's killer is found guilty of starting den fire

Elizabeth Hughes leaving court yesterday and (inset) her son Stephen
Elizabeth Hughes leaving court yesterday and (inset) her son Stephen

Declan Brennan

THE mother of a 12-year-old boy who died in a fire 13 years ago wept as a man was found guilty of starting the blaze.

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

The victim's family members shouted "yes" as Dermot Griffin (54), of Ballyfermot Road, Ballyfermot, Dublin was yesterday convicted of manslaughter after a 13- day trial.

He had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to manslaughter at Rossfield Avenue, Tallaght on September 1, 2001. But the jury of six men and six women deliberated for just over six hours before returning the majority verdict yesterday.

Judge Patricia Ryan thanked the jury for their service. She remanded Griffin in custody until June 3 when she will pass sentence.

Stephen's mother Elizabeth broke down in tears, while the accused stared ahead impassively throughout proceedings.

The main evidence against Griffin came from three witnesses who placed him 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.

Mary Rose Gearty SC, prosecuting, said that a "very dramatic change" came in the case in 2012 when one of these witness, 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 den – which was located in an alley between a derelict shop and a house at Rossfield Avenue – because "he didn't want joyriders in the area, he didn't want guards in the area".

She told gardai that Griffin was at home with her on the night and told her he was going to burn it down.

She said that he went out and came back and told her he had felt a foot in the hut but that he still intended to set it on fire. He took some paper and went out again, she told the court.

Shortly after his return the couple heard shouting and they both went out and saw the fire.

She said: "Dermot looked at me in a shocked manner. He said there were kids in that."

Ms Deegan had originally told gardai in 2001 that Griffin had stayed on the sofa with her all that night after they had smoked heroin and watched a movie. She told the court that she was covering up for Griffin.

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'."

Mr Hall said he could see nothing except smoke. He said he pushed aside a pallet and pulled himself through and up on to 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 told the court he was unable to lift the hut open again and he 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.

Irish Independent

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