Man set fire to house with his four children inside
‘He left the children and I with nothing, only the clothes on our backs' - Mum
A man has been jailed for five years after he locked himself into his home in North Cork and set it alight with his four children inside as he attempted suicide when he realised his marriage was over.
The 50 year old man, who can’t be named to protect the identity of his children, pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to arson at the two storey family home on December 18 last.
Det Garda Pat O’Connell said the man was working abroad and he and his wife had grown apart as a consequence, and when he returned home on December 17, she left to go to visiting in Cork city.
The man rang his wife during the night and as a result of the conversation he went upstairs around midnight and set two fires at the family home with the couple’s four children all still in the building.
He came downstairs and unlocked the front door to let the four children out and they made their way to a neighbour’s house. The children were not physically harmed in the incident, he said.
The accused then re-entered the house and locked the building before setting a third fire downstairs but a neighbour managed to get him out through a window to safety and he was taken to hospital.
“He realised his marriage was over. He said it was a suicide attempt. He explained he never intended harming his children. In fairness, he did get them out of the house,” he said.
The fire caused €85,000 worth of damage to the house which remains unrepaired and the woman and her four children are living from week to week in accommodation provided by the HSE, he said.
The man’s wife told, in a Victim Impact Statement, how the man’s actions in burning down their family home just days before Christmas had made life a nightmare for her and their four children. “I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy to experience a phone call from a friend saying ‘the father of your children has set your home on fire with your children in it’,” said the woman in her statement.
“By burning down our family home he left my children and I with nothing only the clothes on our backs - homelessness, debt, financial burdens and much distress and trauma,” she said.
The woman told the court in her Victim Impact Statement that “it would be fair to say that our marriage has been over for a number of years and we lived separate lives in differentcountries.
“However I always sought to be civil with him when he visited the children for their sake – I never thought that he was capable of these actions and unstable behaviour.”
The couple’s children had been receiving counselling from the HSE but they remain highly confused upset and hurt due to the actions of their father which propelled them “into turmoil overnight”.
The children have repeatedly said that “they don’t want to see their father and are scared of him” and she requested that the man would refrain from having all contact with them.
Defence barrister Donal O’Sullivan BL said “the realisation that the marriage was over was the tipping point on the night. He is 50 and went through his life with no black mark against him.
“He got the children out. He never had any intention of harming anyone except himself. This was out of character. Even the victim said she never thought he would do something like this.”
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said arson was a very serious offence on any occasion but to set fire to a building knowing there were people in the building was particularly heinous.
“Whatever he wanted to do himself and his future is one thing but that he should involve his children and his wife and destroy their home is another matter entirely,” he said.
“How he can make out he was the victim is nothing but complete bunkum – I’ve read the reports but I have no idea how he managed to get to the level where he sees himself as some sort of martyr.
“It was manic, reckless and dangerous, exposing his own children to a level of danger that was frightening. It is very little comfort that he took them out when the fire was started.
“They are now without a house, they are put through this trauma. Thankfully, they suffered no damage physically but now they are without a house so you can hardly say they have not suffered.”
Judge O Donnabhain said that the man was well educated with a good job but a probation report showed that he had no insight into the emotional harm he had done to his wife and children.
He said the probation report failed to show why the fire was set and while he lacked insight he was going for counselling and the report suggested there was only a moderate risk of re-offending.
The headline sentence for such an offence would be ten years but the man should benefit from mitigating factors such as his guilty plea and the fact that he had no previous convictions.
Judge O Donnabhain sentenced the man to seven years but suspended the final two years on condition he remain under the supervision of the probation service upon his release.