manslaughter | 

Arsonist who killed man by setting Kilkenny mobile home on fire jailed for 11 years

The court heard that William Nolan pleaded with his brother to get out of the mobile home as it "melted away" but could only hear Gerry Nolan say: "I'm not able"

Victim Gerry Nolan was unrecognisable after dying in mobile home fire started by Martin Kelly. Photo: Crimestoppers

Alison O'Riordan

An arsonist who admitted killing a man after a garda cold case review of a fatal 2006 mobile home blaze has been jailed for 11 years for manslaughter.

The court was previously told that a woman who had given her then partner Martin Kelly an alibi during the investigation into the fatal fire in 2006 later came forward and changed her statement after he started a relationship with another woman.

Kelly has since amassed 196 convictions - including those involving violence and criminal damage by fire - and is deemed to be at high risk of reoffending.

Sentencing Kelly at the Central Criminal Court today, Mr Justice Paul McDermott said the "very extensive" victim impact statements from Gerry Nolan's family had eloquently reflected the devastating and deep lasting effect of their terrible loss, the horror of the manner of the deceased's death and the fact that Mr Nolan had been denied justice as his family saw it for over 16 years.

The judge also said that setting fire to Mr Nolan's home went beyond an intention to frighten him and was an intention to terrorise him. It also showed the accused's shocking and callous indifference to the deceased's fate, he added.

Last week, the family of "kind and gentle soul" Mr Nolan told the court that he was killed "in a severely sick and horrendous way", when then-teenager Kelly set fire to the victim's mobile home.

They said they will never forget the "horrifying images" of the deceased's home "engulfed in flames".

Speaking outside the Criminal Courts of Justice building today, Mr Nolan's family said: "Gerry has and will never be forgotten by his family. It has been a stressful and traumatic 16 years and today we have received some closure and justice for Gerry."

The family also thanked gardaí and their local community who have helped them over the years.

Last March, Kelly (35) of Church Avenue, Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to the manslaughter of Gerard 'Gerry' Nolan (44) on July 24, 2006, at Deerpark, Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.

In 2020, Kelly had been charged with the murder of Mr Nolan but Sean Gillane SC, for the DPP, said earlier this year that the plea to manslaughter was acceptable to the State.

The Central Criminal Court heard during last week's sentence hearing of Kelly that William Nolan pleaded with his brother to get out of the mobile home as it "melted away" but could only hear Gerry Nolan say: "I'm not able."

Evidence was also given that the deceased was very badly burned and completely unrecognisable when emergency services gained access to the mobile home.

Before delivering the sentence today, Mr Justice McDermott said the accused was 19 years of age at the time he set fire to Mr Nolan's mobile home and that he was now 35-years-old. His plea meant that he accepted that he was guilty of the gross recklessness leading to Mr Nolan's death, he added.

Regarding the deceased's brother who lived in a nearby prefab, Mr Justice McDermott said they shared a close relationship, that William Nolan was awoken at 3.45am and had seen a male going in the direction of his brother's mobile home.

"He heard glass cracking and saw flames coming from the mobile home, he ran out and was unable to gain access. He tried to break the glass on the door and couldn't succeed. He encouraged his brother Gerry to leave but the intensity of the flames made that impossible," he continued.

Referring to Kelly's 196 previous convictions, the judge said more than 100 of them were for road traffic matters and some of them were concerning as they involved violence inflicted after this offence. He had been convicted on 10 occasions of criminal damage, two of which involved fire, he added.

The court has heard that Kelly's convictions include assault, criminal damage, burglary and entering a building with intent to commit an offence. He also has a conviction for endangerment which involved him driving a stolen vehicle at a member of An Garda Síochána.

Passing sentence today, the judge said Kelly had been repeatedly referred to probation services since he was 16 years of age, that he had abused drugs and alcohol from an early age which led to his repeat offending and that he had been in custody for most of his adolescent years. He is also deemed at a high risk of reoffending, he said.

Mr Justice McDermott said that Kelly had described what he had done as constantly "eating at him" since 2006. The defendant said he had been drinking all day and that the offence was prompted by an incident where he went to his mother's house and had an altercation with his brother, he said.

Kelly, continued the judge, said he had only intended to frighten Mr Nolan and that he had seen the victim asleep on the night.

Mr Justice McDermott said the accused had given very little thought to the consequences of his actions and that he couldn't bring himself to come forward at the time. He had also prolonged the suffering of the Nolan family and allowed another person to be implicated in the offence, he said.

Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge said it had been committed with a high degree of recklessness by setting fire to a mobile home where he knew Mr Nolan was living.

He added: "Setting fire to a home goes beyond an intention to frighten, it's an intention to terrorise. Fire will by its nature spread and become uncontrollable. There is a very high risk of serious injury or death to a person, all the more so when the arsonist does nothing to ensure the damage is limited."

The aggravating factors in the case included that the fire was set "in the dead of night" without any intention to warn the deceased of the danger, that the accused drove to Mr Nolan's house intending to start the fire and that Kelly had left the scene without any consideration for the victim's safety or to save him from serious injury.

"This showed the shocking and callous indifference to Mr Nolan's fate, that he [Kelly] had also arranged an alibi and that he did nothing to divert the investigation from the [other person] he knew," said the judge.

Mr Justice McDermott said it was the most serious offence of manslaughter and deserved the highest range of between 15 years imprisonment and up to life.

He set the headline sentence at 17 years.

In mitigation, the judge noted his guilty plea to manslaughter, his age at the time of the offence and his expression of sincere remorse for the killing which he said was welcome but had been a long time coming.

In addition, the court took into account Kelly's difficult upbringing, the considerable level of drug and alcohol abuse in his home and the number of years that have passed since the commission of the offence.

Kelly was sentenced to 12 years and six months in prison with the final 18 months suspended for a period of three years on condition he avail of education and addiction support. It was backdated to when he went into custody on November 2, 2021.

The defence asked for liberty to mention the matter later today as they said the accused had spent some time in the Midlands Prison in Portlaoise prior to being transferred to Cloverhill Prison in November 2021.

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