Jail for Dublin man who 'inexplicably' set fire to empty house

The property was being refurbished for the use of a charity, Prosper Fingal
The property was being refurbished for the use of a charity, Prosper Fingal

A man who “inexplicably” set fire to an empty house that was being refurbished for a charity has been sentenced to three years with the final year suspended.

Stephen O'Shaughnessy (27) was intoxicated at the time he set fire to cardboard in the house. He waited outside until gardaí arrived and could not offer a reason for his behaviour.

The court heard the property was being refurbished for the use of a charity, Prosper Fingal.

There was smoke, fire and water damage throughout the house which was almost finished refurbishment. The cost to the building contractor in gutting and refitting the house was €170,000.

O'Shaughnessy, of Haywood Court, Northwood, Santry, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to damaging by fire a house at Prosper Fingal, Drogheda Street, Balbriggan on June 14, 2016.

Judge Karen O'Connor said the building was being refurbished for people with disabilities and was two weeks from completion. She noted that 17 people were due to use the facility and were therefore placed in unsuitable temporary accommodation and denied access to appropriate services.

The judge said the charity also had planned for the building to have “an openness feeling” but because of the fire had to re-think this strategy and put in place additional security features.

Judge O'Connor acknowledged that O'Shaughnessy believed the building was unoccupied at the time but said it was a built up area and there was no certainty that the fire wouldn't have spread.

Garda Aidan O'Halloran told Maurice Coffey BL, prosecuting, that gardaí attended at the scene of the fire and a member of the public pointed out O'Shaughnessy who was sitting on a nearby wall.

He said O'Shaughnessy, whose face and clothes were covered in soot, had come from the rear of the burning building. He was arrested at 2.50am and a lighter in his possession was seized.

Gda O'Halloran agreed with David Staunton BL, defending, that O'Shaughnessy was intoxicated at the time of arrest and appeared to be sitting on the wall waiting for gardaí. He agreed O'Shaughnessy knew there was no-one in the house and appeared to be remorseful.

The garda agreed O'Shaughnessy made full and frank admissions to starting the fire by setting fire to cardboard inside the house but could not advance a reason for having done so.

Mr Staunton said it was “absolutely inexplicable” why his client had done this. He said O'Shaughnessy had no grievance with the parties and had no association with the property.

He said O'Shaughnessy was a person who had struggled with addiction for a significant time. He said the only explanation for the behaviour was that O'Shaughnessy was highly intoxicated and behaved recklessly as a result of a relapse into drug and drink use at that time.

Mr Staunton said The Probation Service were willing to work with him and had a view of a man who was keen to move away from criminality. O'Shaughnessy has 18 previous convictions.

Counsel said O'Shaughnessy had a reasonably consistent background of work and a partner who supports him.

He said the severity of the case was not lost on his client.