heinous crime | 

Cork woman who killed two friends by setting flat on fire to be released from prison

Rachel Crawshaw, who had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, set the fire at the flat during a binge drinking sessionin 2014

Rachel Crawshaw pictured at Cork Circuit Court. Photo: Daragh McSweeney

Ali BrackenSunday Independent

A woman who killed two men in an arson attack will be released from prison this week.

Rachel Crawshaw, from Mallow, Co Cork, but of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to the unlawful killing of John Palmer (37) and Greg Lonergan (36), at Granary Court, St Joseph’s Road, Mallow, and to committing arson at the same address between March 12 and March 13, 2014. She was sentenced to 10 years in 2016.

Crawshaw, who had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, set the fire at the flat during a binge drinking session.

For the past several months, the 35-year-old has been working as a barista in a Dublin city cafe as part of a prison work programme. She has served her sentence at Dublin’s Dóchas Centre prison.

Crawshaw is expected to live in a charity housing facility for people who have nowhere to go on release from jail. The Irish Prison Service declined to comment.

Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard in 2016 how Garda Liam Phillips and Garda Caitriona O’Sullivan braved thick smoke to get to the top floor of the Granary Court apartment to find Christopher Palmer (37) unconscious and Crawshaw drunk.

The officers managed to get them out before leading other occupants to safety. Firefighters later recovered the bodies of Mr Palmer’s twin brother, John, and Mr Lonergan, from the living area of the top floor flat, which the Palmer brothers were renting.

An investigation established there were three separate sites to the fire in the flat, and gardaí later arrested Crawshaw and questioned her. However, she had little recollection of the night as she and the three men had been on a drinking binge.

The court heard victim impact statements from relatives of the victims, including Christopher Palmer, who said he and his brother had always been very close.

“We were always there for each other from the day that we could walk,” he said.

Defence counsel Marjorie Farrelly SC pleaded for leniency, saying it would have been a difficult case to secure a prosecution without Crawshaw’s guilty plea. She added that while Crawshaw had 29 previous convictions, none of them were for any crime of violence.

She also pointed out that Crawshaw had not used any accelerant in starting the fire, she would not have committed the arson had she not been drinking and her recklessness extended to having no regard for her own safety.

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said he would take her guilty plea into account, but it remained an appalling crime in which two men had lost their lives.

“The people she killed were friends of hers. Does that make it less heinous, does it not raise the recklessness?” he asked.

The judge said the loss to the Palmer and Lonergan families was “huge and palpable”, and while they had heard Crawshaw’s expression of remorse, he wondered if it was of any benefit to them.

“This is one of the most serious and heinous of crimes,” he said.

Judge Ó Donnabháin noted the chaotic nature of Crawshaw’s life in the days before the fire, and although she had 11 years of counselling and support, she was now worse than when she started drinking. The latest probation report suggested she was at a high risk of re-offending.

The judge sentenced her to 15 years but suspended the final five years on foot of her guilty plea and remorse, and he backdated the sentence to June 2015 when she first went into custody. He also commended Gda Phillips and Gda O’Sullivan for their courage and professionalism.

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