Dublin mum fined over gas meter which could have caused 'catastrophic' explosion

Sarah Walker
Sarah Walker

A MOTHER-OF-THREE has been fined €1,500 for unlawfully getting free gas using a dangerous meter which could have caused a "catastrophic" explosion at her home.

Sarah Walker, 35, of Saggart Lakes, Saggart, Co. Dublin was spared a six-month jail sentence and the maximum €5,000 fine, after she pleaded guilty to dishonestly using gas and causing it to be diverted contrary to the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act.

The prosecution was brought by Gas Networks Ireland which owns, operates and maintains the Irish natural gas network connecting more than 670,000 homes and businesses.

John Memery, an authorised officer with Gas Networks Ireland, told Judge John Brennan at Dublin District Court that he went to Walker’s home on September 19 last to investigate tampering with a gas meter. The safety of the gas network was his main function, he said.

The house is in a gated community of about 20 homes and when he was let in, he went to inspect the meter at the side of the house. The meter door was broken off and it was not the correct meter for the house.

Mr Memery said that it had been stolen from another premises in the locality in 2012. Its washers were worn and the gas valve was not in the off position. He considered the meter to be in an "extremely dangerous condition".

He said if a meter is installed by anyone other than Gas Networks Ireland the danger of causing some sort of explosion is "quite huge". He does not know the current whereabouts of the meter originally installed in her home.

He agreed with prosecution solicitor Adrian Lennon that he took a reading from the meter. He said it was a big house and a considerable amount of gas had been used until 2013 but after the stolen meter was installed the gas reading dropped considerably.

He installed a new meter and from September until the end of the year there was 20,000 kilowatts of gas used.

He said that the average three-bed semi-detached house used about 30,000 kilowatts of gas in a year. Mr Memery agreed with defence solicitor Dermot Flanagan that he only spoke with the accused's husband and she was occupied with her children.

Mr Flanagan asked the court to note that the woman did not know about the meter and her husband paid all the bills. She was prosecuted, however, because the gas account was in her name and liability rested with her.

The solicitor said she is embarrassed, has no prior convictions and was not afforded the opportunity of a caution. He said the property was large and there were bank arrears.

Judge Brennan noted the guilty plea and the submissions that she was unaware of these actions. He could not apply the Probation Act because of the serious nature of the offence and the prosecution had pointed out that the "potential catastrophic effect". He noted the risk and danger particularly to the children in the area where the meter was installed, and that there was a shortfall to the utility supplier.

Convicting her, he imposed a €1,500 and also ordered her to contribute €500 towards the cost of the prosecution.