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Thursday 27 April 2017

'I didn't sleep for months', says scarred victim of man's hotel 'flamethrower' attack

Shauna McHugh who survived an attack with an aerosol can outside Gallaghers Hotel in Letterkenny.
Shauna McHugh who survived an attack with an aerosol can outside Gallaghers Hotel in Letterkenny.

A tour guide at a former prison has been jailed for two years over a "flamethrower" attack on a 24-year-old mother, which left her scarred for life.

Kevin Quinn (23) pleaded guilty to charges of assault causing harm and adapting an aerosol deodorant into a weapon contrary to the Firearms Act.

Letterkenny Circuit Criminal Court heard how Shauna McHugh, from Donegal Town, had been staying at the Gallagher's Hotel in Letterkenny during the Donegal rally weekend in 2015.

In the early hours of June 22, Sergeant Sean McDaid said Ms McHugh answered a knock on the door of the hotel room where she had gone to chat to a friend.

"There was some commotion in the corridor and she looked to her right. She heard someone to her left say 'hi' and, when she turned, she saw a man light an aerosol can with a lighter and a large flame hit her in the face," said Sgt McDaid.

The attacker Kevin Quinn
The attacker Kevin Quinn

The garda said Ms McHugh then heard someone say "oh f**k" and heard the footsteps of someone running away.

He said a number of other people in the corridor got her into the room and doused the flames using damp towels and she was later taken to Letterkenny General Hospital.

Sgt McDaid told Judge John O'Hagan that gardai at the scene examined CCTV, which showed Quinn, who works at Crumlin Road jail museum in Belfast, go into his room and leave a short time later wearing a different top.

Stinging

He said gardai were able to identify Quinn and his vehicle and arrested him as he attempted to drive out of Letterkenny later that day.

In her victim impact statement, which Sgt McDaid read to the court, Ms McHugh described how the incident had changed her life.

She said she suffered stinging burn marks on the left side of her face and forehead, and lost part of her eyelashes and eyebrows. Her face still goes bright red on occasions and she can no longer wear contact lenses.

"I couldn't sleep for about two months, I kept reliving that night over and over again," said Ms McHugh.

She quit her pharmaceutical science degree course because she was afraid of using Bunsen burners during experiments.

Judge O'Hagan examined Ms McHugh's face and commented that a burn mark on her face was "still clearly visible".

The court heard that, in garda interviews, Quinn said he had been "carrying on with the lads" and had been chasing friends down the corridor when the incident happened.

Quinn, of Killycanavan Road, Dungannon, Co Tyrone, told the court that he was "extremely sorry" for his actions and apologised to Ms McHugh.

Aggravating

The judge said Quinn had "realised immediately" what he had done and had been captured on CCTV slipping away from the hotel, with his attempts at evading detection an aggravating factor.

He said, if it hadn't been for the diligence of gardai, Quinn "might have disappeared over the border and would never be seen again". He noted that Quinn had a previous conviction for assault in the North and a probation report had noted a lack of responsibility and a lack of empathy towards his victim.

The judge said Ms McHugh, who now works as an optician's assistant, continued to suffer the psychological effects of the attack.

He said the attack was "such a serious matter" that it had to attract a custodial sentence and he jailed Quinn for two years, suspending the final year.

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