THE mother of the Tallaght boy who died in a fire in a makeshift hut has said hearing his killer knew there was a person in it before he torched it will haunt her forever.
Stephen Hughes was just 12 when he and his pal Daryl Hall (14) were playing in the shelter on Rossfield Avenue on September 1, 2001.
But Dermot Griffin, from Ballyfermot Road, was caught on CCTV setting it on fire.
His then partner Tracey Deegan gave him an alibi at the time, but in 2011 she went to gardai and changed her statement, telling them that Griffin had said he was going to burn the hut down.
This week he was convicted of Stephen’s manslaughter and for the young boy’s mother Liz it was finally the end of a long search for justice.
During the trial it emerged that Griffin felt a foot inside the den before he torched it.
Tracey Deegan told gardaí that Griffin went out, then 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, and when he came back the den was in flames.
“When I heard he had felt the foot before he set the fire I couldn’t believe it. It was horrific - the worst moment of the trial. How could he do that?” Liz Hughes told
Opening up about the range of emotions she has felt since that night in 2001, Liz said a heavy cross has now finally been lifted from her back.
“We are ecstatic. We are glad we got the justice Stephen deserves,” she said.
“Up until now we have been living a life sentence while he (Griffin) has been out on the streets a free man. We have had our hopes raised and dashed over the years waiting for this day, and now it is here at last. I feel a cross has been lifted from my back.
“My heart used to sink every time I saw Griffin on the street, knowing he was the main suspect and he was walking around free while Stephen was dead,” she added.
“The residents of Rossfield held a special ceremony on Tuesday night where they invited me and everyone that was affected along and they lit candles and released 100 balloons. It was like setting Stephen free. It was beautiful.
“I have never given up the fight for Stephen. It has taken so long, but I visited his grave during the trial and told him I was still fighting for him. I still feel that connection with him.”
Liz said she was glad that her own grandmother, who is 92, was able to see Griffin convicted in court.
“This has tormented her, and now she has seen it to the end, I am very happy for her,” she explained.
“When I got home after the conviction I was afraid I would wake up from some sort of dream and it wouldn’t be true. But it is true. Stephen’s day has come.”
Liz said the site where Stephen died has remained unchanged, still lying derelict after more than a decade.
“I would like to see it turned into a little garden of remembrance for Stephen, and for the plaque in front of it to be incorporated into it,” she said.
Stephen would be in his mid 20s if he had survived.
“I often wonder what he would be doing now, the young man he would be, and what he would look like. But I’ll never know that now,” she added
Griffin will be sentenced on June 6.