Man jailed for five years for underground car park blaze

A man who left dozens of people trapped in an apartment block after he set fire to an underground car park has been jailed for five years.

Paul McGinley deliberately put a gas cylinder inside a car at an underground car park at Rosemount Lane, in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, on September 29, 2015.

The car caught fire and spread to eight other cars before spreading to an upstairs apartment block and two businesses.

Dozens of people became trapped by the blaze and had to be rescued by the fire service.

McGinley pleaded guilty to arson and reckless endangerment when he appeared at Letterkenny Circuit Court.

McGinley’s co-accused, Owen McFadden, of Cavanconnor, Gortahork, has since died.

The pair set fire to two cars at the car park at Rosemount before it spread to buildings, causing €500,000 of damage.

Garda Brendan McCann told the court that, on the evening of September 29, 2016, McFadden and McGinley tried to steal a car from the car park of the building just before 1.30am.

It had no petrol so they stole some from a nearby shed but then poured the petrol on one of the cars, which quickly spread to a total of nine vehicles.

The fire spread upwards to other buildings, causing panic among residents.

A total of 17 apartments were filled with smoke as 30 residents, including ten children, tried to flee.

Some of the residents became trapped on the upper floors of the apartment block and had to be rescued by the fire service.

Luckily there were no serious injuries but some did suffer smoke inhalation.

McGinley, aged 32, and McFadden were arrested after gardaí studied CCTV footage in and around the building and both admitted starting the blaze.

Richard Lyons, for McGinley, said his client has a history of mental illness and had been admitted to psychiatric services on 10 occasions.

Passing sentence, Judge John Aylmer said it was “miraculous” that there were not more serious casualties following the blaze.

He put the incident at the upper end of the scale for such crimes and one which merited a 10-year jail sentence for the arson and six years for the reckless endangerment.

However, he said it was obvious McGinley had suffered long-term mental health issues and pleaded guilty at an early stage.

He reduced that sentence by 50%, jailing McGinley for a total of five years. He ordered that he receive all the necessary psychiatric treatment he can be afforded.

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