herald

Monday 5 December 2016

Man jailed for fire that caused €2.3m damage has his sentence reduced

Courts

a man jailed for his role in setting a fire which caused €2.2m worth of damage and forced businesses in a shopping centre to close has had his jail term cut on appeal.

The Court of Appeal heard yesterday that a sofa was set on fire in the loading bay of the North Link Retail Park and the blaze spread to cause millions of euro in damages, €745,000 of which was uninsured. Businesses were forced to close and people lost their jobs.

James McNamee (23) had pleaded guilty at Dundalk Circuit Criminal Court to one count of arson. He was sentenced to four years imprisonment by Judge Michael O'Shea on January 31, 2014.

Suspended

However, McNamee successfully appealed his sentence and a new sentence of four years imprisonment, with the final 18 months suspended, was imposed on him by the three-judge Court of Appeal.

Mr Justice Alan Mahon said McNamee, then aged 18, and three minors had climbed a fence on June 30, 2010 and entered the loading bay of a retail park where a sofa was set on fire.

There was no evidence to suggest who successfully started the fire but McNamee had unsuccessfully attempted to set fire to a piece of timber, the court heard.

His three accomplices were not prosecuted due to their age and McNamee was the only one who was punished.

Mr Justice Mahon said it was clear by the original judge's remarks that he attached a significant degree of culpability onto McNamee's shoulders. The sentencing judge had said the culprits left the scene fully aware that the sofa was on fire and they did not call the fire brigade.

Much reliance in McNamee's appeal was placed on his youth and that he did not appreciate the risks associated with setting fire to a sofa in or close to a building.

However, a person over 18 years old does have significant insight into the dangers of setting fire to soft furniture and the risks that fire could spread, Mr Justice Mahon said.

It was lucky nobody was injured or killed, Mr Justice Mahon said and "undoubtedly a custodial sentence was required".

Mr Justice Mahon said the sentencing judge permitted himself to be unduly swayed by the seriousness of the offence, which clouded his consideration of McNamee's prospects for rehabilitation.

It was an error to a limited extent, he said and the court allowed the appeal.

McNamee, with an address at Drumbilla, Dundalk, Co Louth, was required to enter into his own bond of €100 to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for a period of 4 years following his release.

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