Saturday 18 November 2017

Wheelchair-bound man avoids jail for starting fire at his home with intention of taking his own life

Stock picture
Stock picture

Laura Colgan

A wheelchair-bound man has been given a five-year suspended sentence after starting a fire at his home with the intention of taking his own life.

Gerard Field (28) of Glin Road, Coolock, Dublin, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to three counts of arson at his own home and houses either side on April 11, 2015. His parents and sister were in the house at the time.

Noel Devitt, SC, prosecuting, told the court Field was born with spina bifida and was diagnosed with a hydrocephalic condition and mild cerebral palsy as a baby. He said Field used a wheelchair and had suffered from depression.

He said Field had been “feeling down” in the weeks prior to the offence and had contacted Beaumont Hospital looking for psychiatric help the day before it took place.

Field set fire to a bag of clothes in the back room of the downstairs of the house with the intention of taking his own life. He said petrol or other flammable materials were not used.

Garda Neil Plunkett said Field was most seriously injured in the arson attack.

He said Field lost consciousness and had to be dragged out by members of Dublin Fire Brigade. His parents were also brought to Beaumont Hospital, while his sister suffered minor injuries.

Gda Plunkett said the accused admitted to starting the fire when gardaí went to Beaumont Hospital to take a witness statement.

Field later came to the garda station with a solicitor and made the same admissions. Gda Plunkett said Field accepted he endangered the lives of others and apologised to the emergency services for making a “stupid mistake” during the interview.

Gda Plunkett also said Field said he did not know if there was anyone in the house when he started the fire. He has no previous convictions.

He said that the three houses were damaged by smoke from the fire and water by the fire brigade’s efforts. He said that Dublin City Council paid almost €96,000 in repair costs.

Gda Plunkett said he viewed this as a “tragic case” and that it was a case of “criminal damage but with no motivation other than to kill himself”.

Blaise O’Carroll SC, defending, told the court Field had had difficulty finding a home since the arson attack as Dublin City Council was not willing to house him. He required specific care because of the nature of his disabilities and spent time in St Mary’s Hospital in the Phoenix Park in Dublin after he was discharged from Beaumont Hospital.

He was now living in a residential centre for homeless adults with disabilities in Dublin City Centre and had a carer from the Salvation Army. The court heard Field’s father had since died from a heart attack.

Judge Martin Nolan said it was not appropriate to impose a custodial sentence given the background of the case and Field’s intention to hurt nobody but himself. Field was given a five-year suspended sentence and must engage with the probation services for two years.

Handing down the sentence, Judge Nolan told the man: “This is a lenient sentence given your background and conditions. You suffered a lot of pain yourself, didn’t you? Causing a fire is a very serious matter. You could have inflicted that pain on other people.”

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