Saturday 20 January 2018

Paranoid schizophrenic avoids jail for arson because he thought neighbours were spreading rumours

Declan Brennan

A PARANOID schizophrenic carried out an arson attack because he believed his neighbours were spreading false rumours that he was a paedophile, a court has heard.

Successful businessman Paul Shortall (48) has suffered from persecutory delusions and auditory hallucinations for a substantial part of his life.

Shortall of Winton Mews, Rathgar pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to carrying out the arson attack at Richmond Hill, Rathmines, Dublin on February 20, 2011.

Judge Patrick McCartan suspended a prison sentence of three years on the condition that Shortall continue to receive treatment for his condition and keep the peace for five years.

He also ordered that he pay €15,000 over to the victims for the damage and hurt caused by his actions.

Detective Sergeant Mark O'Neill told Maurice Coffey BL, prosecuting, that Shortall used newspaper and firelighters to start a fire at the front door of his neighbour's home while a family with two young children slept in the house.

He said the fire sent smoke and flames into the hallway. The court heard that the family inside were completely innocent victims who were traumatised by the random attack.

Dr Paul O'Connell, a consultant forensic psychiatrist with the Central Mental Hospital told Patrick Gageby SC, defending, that at the time Shortall believed that gardai and neighbours were spreading rumours that he was a paedophile.

He said: “He was utterly convinced that those people in his vicinity were taunting and mocking him. He would have felt that he had no other course of action but to stand up for himself. He thought he would send a signal by setting fire to a bin.”

He said that Shortall then changed his mind and decided to set fire to the door.

Det Sgt O'Neill said that there had being other incidents of arson in the neighbourhood and that he believed Shortall was involved in these.

Dr O'Connell said Shortall was suffering from chronic paranoid psychosis with persecutory and auditory delusions. His medical opinion is that Shortall would have being eligible to have pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

The psychiatrist said that at the time of the offence Shortall was unable to form a moral judgement about the consequences of his actions.

The court heard that a report from Dr Brenda Wright, also from the Central Mental Hospital, agreed with Dr O'Connell's opinion.

Dr O'Connell said Shortall believed that people in his gym and his local shop were looking at him because gardai had told them all he was a paedophile.

He said that in the last year Shortall has exercised good judgement by engaging with treatment and that he has responded well to this.

Dr O'Connell said that despite suffering from paranoid delusions for much of his life Shortall was a high functioning individual and an otherwise successful businessman.

He said: “He was able to move through life while suffering persecutory delusions about those people around him.”

Judge McCartan said that there was serious risk of Shortall reoffending unless he followed medical advice and treatment.

Shortall’s six previous convictions include offences under the firearms act which were dealt with in the District Court.

The Judge said that if Shortall did come back before the court there was a serious risk of him going to prison.

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