Man who set apartment fire that melted girl's hearing aid in her ear jailed for 10 years

The scene of the fire in Inchicore in September, 2017. Pic: Collins

A man who set fire to an apartment with three children inside has been jailed for 10 years.

Ian O'Connor (29) of Emmet Crescent, Inchicore, Dublin threw a pipe bomb at another family home less than a month later, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard.

He pleaded guilty to arson at Tyrone Place, Inchicore on September 18, 2017. He also pleaded guilty to arson at Ailesbury Road, Dublin on October 15, 2017.

The court heard that in the first arson, the heat of the fire caused a hearing aid to melt in a seven-year-old’s ear, leaving her with a permanent scar.

Judge Melanie Greally sentenced O'Connor to 12 years imprisonment for the first arson, but suspended the final two years on condition that he keep the peace and engage with the Probation Service for two years on his release.

Judge Greally also sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment for the later arson, to run concurrently with the other sentence. She backdated all sentences to the day O’Connor went into custody, March 9, 2018.

Detective Inspector David Harrington told Tony McGillicuddy BL, prosecuting, that on the date in September, Margaret Green was asleep in her apartment along with her three children and woke to find the stairs on fire.

Ms Green was trapped upstairs by the fire and tried unsuccessfully to smash the windows to escape. She covered her two youngest children with wet towels in her bedroom and was choking on smoke when they were rescued by the fire brigade.

Her eldest son had fallen asleep while watching television downstairs and woke up to the sight of the front door on fire. He escaped via a balcony at the back of the apartment with the help of a neighbour who brought him a ladder.

O'Connor admitted to starting the fire by pouring petrol in the letterbox and on the front door. He said he owed money to certain persons who had instructed him to light the fire and had told him that there would be no one in the house.

Inspector Harrington agreed with Caroline Biggs SC, defending, that O'Connor believed that had he not lit the fire, then his family would have been pipe-bombed. O'Connor was given a bag of cocaine beforehand, but said he did not do it for the drugs.

Family thought they were going to die

In a victim impact statement which was read out in court, Ms Green said that her seven-year-old daughter's hearing aid had melted in the fire causing a permanent scar to her ear. The court heard all four members of the family had sustained injuries.

Ms Green said she thought that she and her family were all going to die. She said she remembered her youngest son telling her that he was going to heaven and that he would come back and help them escape the fire.

Detective Garda Shane Cahill told Mr McGillicuddy that in the second attack, William Godson woke to find flames outside the kitchen window of the home of his parents and two younger siblings. He grabbed bottles of water and used them to douse the fire.

O'Connor told gardaí that he got an offer of €2,000 to put a petrol bomb through a window and was told that there was no one in the house, but he had not been paid as it had not worked. He said he had brought two petrol bombs to the house but had only thrown one.

Det Gda Cahill agreed with Ms Biggs that her client had been in debt and felt he had no option of getting money anywhere else. He agreed that there was some speculation that the wrong house had been targeted.

O'Connor has previous convictions for drunk driving and for being drunk in charge of a vehicle. He is unmarried and has one child.

Judge Greally said the aggravating factors in the case were that the acts of arson took place at residential homes while its occupants were asleep, the high degree of recklessness, the severe harm to the victims and the fact that O'Connor was acting as an agent of organised crime.

She said the mitigating factors in the case were his plea of guilty, his remorse, his admissions to gardaí, his lack of relevant previous convictions, the traumatic events of his youth, his health issues and that he was pressured to act out of concern for the safety of his family.

Judge Greally said the case highlighted the invaluable service provided by the fire brigade. She commended the neighbour who brought one of the children at Tyrone Place a ladder for his bravery in acting to save the boy's life.

Fear of assassination

Ms Biggs told the court that her client's uncle and cousin had been assassinated over drug debts in particularly gruesome killings, adding: “He had seen what happens if you don’t pay.”

She said O’Connor had a history of dependence on cocaine, benzodiazepam and alcohol since the age of 12 and had been under the influence of “vast amounts” of drugs at the time of the offences.

She said that O'Connor has been diagnosed with ADHD at the age of four and had suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and depression since his teens.

A psychiatrist’s report said O’Connor displayed the traits of schizoid personality disorder. She said her client was genuinely remorseful for his actions and had considered suicide.

The court heard O’Connor was working as a cleaner in prison and was willing to take whatever steps necessary to rehabilitate himself.

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