A former drug addict who admitted endangering the lives of three generations of the same family when he set two cars alight in their driveway has been jailed for six years.
A woman in her 80s, her granddaughter and her 10-week-old great grandson were forced to take refuge in her back garden after the heat from the two blazing cars melted the front door shut, a court has heard.
In a victim impact statement read out at the sentence hearing last December on her behalf, the young mother said she feared she would have to choose between saving the life of her infant son or her grandmother if the house caught fire and they were trapped in their back yard.
Sean O'Kelly (24) of Hampton Wood Crescent, St Margaret's Road, Finglas, Dublin, also vandalised six other cars in the same residential neighbourhood and stole items from the cars on the same night.
He pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to one count of endangerment at Gateway Avenue, Ballymun, on June 24, 2016, one count of robbery at nearby Sillogue Gardens, two counts of burglary and six counts of criminal damage, all in the same neighbourhood and on the same night.
Under a separate bill, O'Kelly admitted to arson of two cars in an underground carpark at St Margaret's Road, Finglas, on February 10, 2017.
O'Kelly has 24 previous convictions, including eight for theft and several for criminal damage and firearms offences.
The court heard that O'Kelly caused an estimated €90,000 worth of damage to the underground car park after he set two cars alight, for which an insurance company later made a settlement of over €76,000.
At the original sentence hearing last December, Judge Melanie Greally condemned what she described as “enormously serious offences,” not just for what happened but what could have happened.
“If the fire had spread, the consequences could have been absolutely catastrophic,” she said.
Judge Greally had adjourned sentencing for updated urinalysis, saying the court had to consider how best to build on O'Kelly's progress and yet punish him for extremely serious offences.
Today, Judge Greally imposed consecutive sentences totalling 12 years when she was informed that O'Kelly was on bail when he committed some of the offences but she suspended the final six years of the term on strict conditions.
She said the grandmother, her granddaughter and the baby were exposed to significant danger considering the fact that they didn't have the ability to escape from the blaze at the front of the house.
Judge Greally took into account the fact that O'Kelly has not offended since 2017 and has made “concerted efforts” to address his drug addiction and the other “underlining factors that caused him to abuse drugs”.
She said she was also taking into consideration the number of testimonials handed in on his behalf, the fact that he is now a stable relationship and his pleas of guilty before suspending part of the sentence.
Garda Brian O'Callaghan told Elva Duffy BL, prosecuting, at the previous hearing, that he thought O'Kelly started the various fires using an aerosol can and bits of paper or rubbish that he found in the cars after he broke into them.
The court heard that when he was arrested, O'Kelly said, “I'm an addict,” and rambled through his garda interview, showing no great recollection of his offences.
Brian Storan BL, defending, said his client had begun taking drugs at the age of 11 or 12 but had more recently demonstrated an “exceptional case of rehabilitation”.
O'Kelly wrote a letter of apology saying he couldn't imagine “the stress and the pain” he had inflicted on people.
His partner also wrote a letter describing the positive change in O'Kelly, while his social worker took to the stand and described him as a “genuine role model” for others undergoing drug rehabilitation.