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Man avoids prison over €400k damage in arson attacks

A DUBLIN man who set fire to at least two vacant buildings causing almost €400,000 worth of damage has been spared a jail sentence

Joseph Cooney (22) pleaded guilty to arson of a shed behind the Salmon Leap pub in Leixlip and a house on Main Street on the town in the early hours of November 25, 2012.

Judge Martin Nolan sentenced him to five years in prison at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, but suspended it in full after he accepted a garda's view that the arson was a one-off "act of madness".

Cooney, of St Finian's Avenue, Lucan, Co Dublin, was yesterday told to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for the five years of his suspended sentence.

Judge Nolan said Cooney had "near-perfect mitigation" due to his guilty plea, his remorse, his lack of previous convictions and the large amount of good references in his favour.

But he said "half of Leixlip" could have burnt down and innocent people could have died because of Cooney's "gross error of judgement".

Judge Nolan said Cooney and his co-accused were "basically on drugs for the night and were bored and decided to liven up their lives by setting properties on fire".

Garda John Flaherty said gardai had to deal with three fires: one in a shed behind the Salmon Leap Pub, the second in the lounge of the pub, and the third in a vacant terraced house on Main Street in Leixlip.

The Salmon Leap Pub was locked at the time as it had been closed down some 17 months earlier. The lounge area was badly damaged and it cost €200,000 to restore the pub.

The fire at the house on Main Street caused an estimated €160,000 in damage. The house was being renovated at the time.

Several premises adjoining the house were also damaged as the fire spread, including the Rye Gallery and the Little Yellow Wool Shop, causing thousands worth of damage.

Cooney and his co-accused were identified on CCTV several times on Main Street, Leixlip.

Cooney was arrested and initially denied any involvement, but then told gardai he was sent to "keep sketch" while his friend went around the back of the pub and set fire to the shed.

Cooney also admitted forcing his way into the house on Main Street and setting a number of boxes on fire.

He accepted his actions were "stupid" and apologised to the owners of the buildings and to gardai. Judge Nolan accepted that he was basically "a follower rather than a leader" and was unlikely to come to garda attention again.