Firefighter who set gorse on fire later attended scene to put out the blaze

Kerry fireman David Ahern convicted of criminal damage by arson
Firefighter who set gorse on fire later attended scene to put out the blaze

Firefighter David Ahern arriving at Caherciveen Court, om Co Kerry where he was found guilty of criminal damage. Picture: Alan Landers

A firefighter with Kerry County Council set fire to gorse land in an area off the main Ring of Kerry road, and later was one of a crew of nine who attended the scene to put out the fire on Easter Bank Holiday Monday 2020, a court was told.

Around 1.5 acres of State-owned land was burnt, the court in Caherciveen was told.

Today, David Ahern was convicted of criminal damage by arson at Caherciveen District Court.

David Ahern, aged 36, of St James Gardens, Killorglin, Co Kerry, had denied he committed arson in that he damaged by fire property, namely gorseland at Cromane Upper, Killorglin, on April 13, 2020.

He had also denied that he dishonestly, by deception, induced the fire service department of Kerry County Council to pay him the sum of €151.04 for attending a fire at Cromane Upper, Klilorglin, to make a gain for himself contrary to Section 6 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud) Act, 2001.

The charge of making a gain by deception was dismissed, after an application by his solicitor Brendan Ahern at the end of the hearing.

The case with a number of witnesses, recordings of 999 calls, and stills from a CCTV camera attached to a private house, took some hours.

Chief fire officer in Kerry, Andrew Macilwraith, called by the prosecution, said the payroll cost of dealing with the fire amounted to €1,500. Mr Ahern was one of a full crew of nine firemen attending the scene on the early afternoon on the Easter Monday. There was double time for bank holidays for firemen, and Mr Ahern had been paid €151.04, Mr Macilwraith outlined.

Garda Sergeant Adrian Brennan, investigating, told how weather conditions had been very dry for the previous number of weeks. There had been a number of gorsefires in the area that spring, the sergeant said. The burnt land was owned by the minister for arts, culture and the gaeltacht, surrounded by a large area of commonage.

Stills from CCTV from the Langston family home at Cromane Upper and smoke rising from the nearby hill at around 2.30 were handed into court. Seventeen minutes later, the fire brigade had landed.

The court also heard a recording of a 999 call to the fire service made by Declan Ward wishing to report someone in a car setting a fire, and the vehicle speeding off. A second call to report the fire was made by a woman had also been logged.

Mr Ward was one of four people in the Langston family house at the crossroads on the bog road off the N70. It was sunny day. Smoke billowed from the bog where a black Passat car had stopped and the family had run out and tried it to stop, but the car had increased speed at the house. Amanda Langston was able to call out the registration number to Mr Ward as the car sped past their front wall.

Ms Langsotn told how she was at her parents' home to celebrate her father’s birthday. Her mother was looking out the window and drew her attention to a black car at the brow of the hill. It had stopped there for two or three minutes and she saw a man get back in and reverse around the corner and smoke rose.

“I ran outside and he was driving slowly... I was waving and he was coming by our front wall," she said. 

I was right at the wall I was signing 'hey, hey' to him... He looked directly at me and put his foot on the accelerator. I saw his face.

Her mother, Eileen Langston said she was looking out the window after lunch and a black car came and parked in a dangerous position and someone got out and went over to the ditch and she asked herself if he was setting fire to the gorse.

She was "wary of gorse fires" because there had been a lot of them, she told Mr Ahern, solicitor under cross-examination. She said: 

I wondered what he was up to, and I ran and got the binoculars.

The case did not go into defence and applications were made. 

Earlier, in a memo of a garda interview, read to the court, Mr Ahern, accused, said he had been driving his partner’s car, a black Passat, and was on his way to Glenbeigh when he realised he had no phone and no cigarettes and had stopped by the side of the road to search for them but had not got out of his car. He was returning to collect the items when his pager went off and he collected them and went to the fire station.

Judge David Waters said despite lack of forensic evidence, statements by Mr Ahern and his partner had placed the car at the scene driven by him, and there was “ample evidence” there was a case to answer.

On application by the solicitor to dismiss the deception charge, Judge Waters questioned the basis for the deception charge.

Garda Inspector Róisín O'Dea, prosecuting, said the accused had benefited from the action. However, Judge Waters said theft or fraud would have been a more suitable charge and he had a doubt about the deception charge. He granted the application to dismiss. He was imposing a conviction on the criminal damage charge. 

The judge said there were aspects to the gorse fire incident that made it a very serious offence, “not least the risk to lives”. He needed to consider the case — concerns about gorsefires by people living in the countryside had been raised in the case, Judge Waters noted.

There was also a question over a victim impact statement: The fire brigade were victims here, the court was told by the prosecution.

The matter has been adjourned to January 13 for sentence.

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