A 50-year-old man set fire to his family home with his four young children inside but he got them out before the fire took off and went back into it alone in a suicide attempt, writes Liam Heylin.
That was the scenario described by Detective Garda Pat O’Connell at Cork Circuit Criminal Court yesterday. For legal reasons related to the identification of the children, the defendant’s name is not published.
The prosecution did not proceed with an endangerment charge. The accused pleaded guilty to a count of arson committed on the week before Christmas.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said the four children and their mother were left without a home or any support and were basically left with the clothes they stood up in as a result of the actions of the defendant.
He imposed a jail term of seven years with the last two years suspended.
Det. Garda O’Connell said: “With four children in the house he lit two fires. He got his four children out of the house.
“They were not harmed. He set another fire in the house. He said it was a suicide attempt. He later got out the front window of the house. He was taken to hospital for treatment for smoke inhalation.
“He realised his marriage was over. He said it was a suicide attempt. He never had any intention of harming his children. In fairness, he did get them out of the house. The house has not been repaired. Damage has been assessed at €85,000.”
Because the accused is the named owner, there may be difficulty with any insurance claim to cover the damage caused.
The defendant’s wife said she and the children never want to see him again. She said his horrific actions on December 18, 2016, had thrown their lives into turmoil leaving them homeless with just the clothes on their backs.
Donal O’Sullivan, defence barrister, 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 and across the road to neighbours. 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: “This is a very difficult case to understand. Whatever he wanted to do to himself and his future that is one thing but why he should involve his children, why he should involve his wife, why he should destroy their home I have no idea.
“How he can make out he was the victim is nothing but complete bunkum. 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. You can hardly say they have not suffered. Arson is a very serious crime. When it is known there are people in the house it is particularly heinous.”