Arsonist | 

Man who set fire to cars on Christmas Eve and burned down auto body garage is jailed

Graham Shannon (32) was jailed for three and a half years

Graham Shannon.

Wexford Courthouse.

Graham Shannon.

New Ross Standard

A New Ross man who set fire to three cars on Christmas Eve, before burning down an auto body garage located beside two homes two days later, has been jailed for three and a half years.

Appearing at Wexford Circuit Criminal Court on Wednesday before Judge James McCourt, Graham Shannon (32), with an address at Beech Tree Cottage, Carrigbyrne, pleaded guilty to criminal damage at: The Brambles, Old Ross on Christmas Eve 2018, at Cassagh on the same night and criminal damage at Furlong’s Auto Body Repair Shop in Ballywilliam on St Stephen’s Day of the same year.

Detective Garda Edward Barry said Siobhan Delaney was at home on the night of December 23, 2018, when the sensor light went off in her garden.

“She saw a man running across the back yard. She gave a description of bright orange Adidas runners,” and of a person wearing black clothing, he said.

Ms Delaney’s partner came to stay with her until 2 a.m. Shortly after he left she heard a bang and saw her car was on fire.

Sgt Barry said the car – which was only a few months old – was a total write off.

“The car, a Ford Focus, was parked outside the back door near the kitchen. It was only a couple of feet away from the property.”

Such was the heat from the car fire that it smashed the glass around the back window and door of the house.

In a victim impact statement read aloud in court by Det Barry, Ms Delaney said the incident still affects her. “I am anxious and violated. Entering my property, not once but twice, to complete the task of burning my car.”

She said she is fearful of a similar incident happening again, especially around Christmas time.

Graham Shannon.

Ms Delaney said she now has dogs for security and often questions why this event had to happen to her, adding that she was fortunate she awoke when she did due to the proximity of the burning car to her house.

The total loss she suffered was approximately €35,000 between the car being written off and damage to the house.

Det Barry said the crime was done as part payment of a debt.

Around €200 was taken off a debt owed by the defendant for a car he bought.

“He was directed by another person to do this. We believe that that person was involved with Siobhan Delaney in the early 2000s when she made a complaint against him following a crash. He held a grudge for many, many years until he got his opportunity and he got someone to do this.”

Prosecuting for the state, Dylan Redmond B.L. said during the investigation gardaí retrieved phone data including communications between Shannon and the third party. “The third party discharged Mr Shannon to carry out this task and nominated an amount of money that would be credited.” He said the man was a friend of the defendant’s.

“He had lent him some money to buy a vehicle. He said he would waive the fee for the loan if he did this.”

When asked by Judge McCourt how much Shannon paid for the vehicle, he was informed ‘€450’.

Det Barry said two cars, a 2011 Toyota Landcruiser worth €19,000 and a 152 Ford Focus valued at €21,000 were destroyed in an arson attack at Martin Finn’s property in Cassagh.

“The house was occupied by him and his wife Mena.”

In a victim impact statement, Mr Finn said: “This incident at Christmas 2018 has had a huge effect on my sense of safety and security. We feel extremely vulnerable and my Mena was disinclined to leave the house at all.”

Det Barry said Martin is in his seventies and Mena in her mid to late 60s.

Mr Finn said the doors are locked during the day and they have had trouble sleeping.

He said the couple because suspicious about intruders and never want to go through such hardship and distress again.

Det Barry said the motive for the crime went back a long period of time. He said there was animosity between the third party and Mr Finn as the latter had made a complaint to gardaí about diesel being taken by the third party. A community service order was issued to the man.

Mr Redmond said mobile phone messages between Shannon and the third party were obtained, in which the defendant texted ‘I got ‘em good’.

Details of their deal were also set out. He texted: “I got the lorry and got the two new yokes’.

Two days later Shannon visited Furlong’s garage in Ballywillam, armed with a can of petrol.

Det Barry said €229,600 in damage was caused to the garage on St Stephen’s Day morning.

“Mr Shannon bore a grudge against Mr Furlong who had been tasked by the county council to tow his car. An altercation occurred when Shannon arrived at the garage the day his car was towed, with the defendant being threatening and abusive towards Mr Furlong in front of his daughter and a customer.”

Det Barry said Niall Furlong (54) was awoken at 4.10 a.m. on Stephen’s Day morning.

He said the victims heard a car door closing. Around 50 minutes later they heard a loud bang.

Det Barry explained that gas bottles used for welding, located inside the garage, exploded.

“The houses (beside the garage) weren’t set on fire, but the garage was. It caused total, catastrophic damage to the garage and all plant stock and tools were demolished.” Mr Furlong called gardaí in New Ross immediately, alerting them to two altercations he had with individuals over recent months.

“One was Mr Shannon.”

Det Barry said gardaí retrieved CCTV showing a car with distinctive lights and an unusual shape close to the garage at 4.19 a.m.

“A person could be seen exiting the vehicle carrying a red can and then put it in the boot.”

Shannon was spotted two days later at Lidl car park in New Ross by Det Barry at his Hyundai Sonata. “The vehicle matched the vehicle in the CCTV.”

He applied for a search warrant and Shannon’s residence was searched by Sgt Alan Stafford among others.

A pair of orange Adidas runners were located inside, and a red petrol can was found in the boot of the car.

“The runners were significant because gardaí had been given an unusual description.” Shannon’s phone was seized and his messages downloaded.

Mr Redmond said the third party indicated to him that if he sorted a few cars there would be a few quid in it for him.

“Graham Shannon said set fire to them. He indicated he could take care of that.” In a victim impact statement, Mr Furlong outlined the trauma he and his family have suffered arising from the attack on his property.

“Christmas for our family has never been the same since 2018.”

He said a ‘devastating, unthinkable, terrifying crime’ was committed at his garage while he and his family, and parents living nearby, were asleep in their beds.

“A massive explosion would cause the windows in our house to shake. The explosion was heard 4kms away.”

He said his son, who was aged 11, watched the blaze from his bedroom window, while panic set inside him, thinking about his parents who live beside the garage.

“This terrible crime was a direct result of my working for An Garda Siochana. I have a contract with them. As a result of Mr Shannon’s actions my self employed business was destroyed and I was financially ruined overnight. I was out of work for eight months.”

Mr Furlong said he found it extremely difficult to resurrect his business.

“I didn’t even have a spanner to my name. To this day I have not been able to replace all my equipment. My insurance claim was €67,000 which in no way compensated me for my loss which was €280,000. I couldn’t sleep at night for six months worrying about what happened.”

He detailed the profound effect the fire had on him and his family, adding that they lived in fear.

“My daughter still wakes at night. We are all on high alert when the sensor light comes on or a car slows down outside.”

He said his parents, aged 86 and 81, were asleep when the explosion happened. His father, who is visually impaired, rushed to the garage.

“I luckily got him out of harm’s way. It was a miracle no one was hurt. A section of the garage roof landed in their garden.”

Mr Furlong said he cannot fathom such a thoughtless, callous, reckless act. He said it has had a profound effect on him emotionally and psychologically, and thanked New Ross gardaí and the firemen who assisted him that day and since.

Det Barry said Shannon finished serving a sentence in April of last year and has been in custody on the arson charges since.

The court heard that Shannon had 82 previous convictions, more than half of which were or motoring offences. He had two threat to kill convictions to his name, along with one intimidation of a witness, along with drugs offences and a crime of a sexual nature.

Three of the convictions were for criminal damage and he threatened to burn down a garda’s house and put nails in a plank which burst a garda patrol car’s tyres. He also slashed an off duty garda’s car tyres and scraped all of the panels.

The court heard Shannon threatened to kill two guards in December 2019 and posted the registration number of one of the guard’s cars on Facebook, seeking his address.

Mr Redmond said Mr Furlong had suffered a shortfall of around €213,000, adding that the other victims recovered money from their insurance companies, but not the full amount.

Defence counsel Laura Cunningham said most of her client’s crimes were minor in nature, adding that he had only been before the courts ten times.

She outlined his troubled background, including alcohol and drug abuse and handed a letter to Judge McCourt in which he expressed remorse for his actions and apologised to the victims.

“Mr Shannon has been in custody since April 7 on this matter alone.”

She said much of the communication occurred when Shannon was in a pub.

Det Barry replied that the conversation began while the defendant was in a pub.

“It wasn’t coded or sophisticated language. The text messages were frankly stupid in nature to have a phone in this context,” said Ms Cunningham.

“Absolutely,” the sergeant agreed.

She said her client made no attempt to get rid of the evidence, adding that Shannon couldn’t have anticipated that anyone would be in the cars or garage when he committed the offences.

“It was reckless. He didn’t know what would happen when it was set on fire,” Sgt Barry said.

Judge McCourt said he couldn’t ignore the fact that the fires were set near residences.

Ms Cunningham said Shannon has made some progress in custody and is studying a course on the environment.

He said he had troubled teenage years and again spiralled out of control following the break up of a relationship with a woman, with whom he has a daughter, now nine.

“She sees him by way of visit as often as possible.”

Ms Cunningham said a turning point in Shannon’s life was the tragic death of his friend in a car crash in 2007. “This changed his world; he stopped caring about himself after that. He didn’t want to meet new people and went into himself.” She said the court must consider the rehabilitation of her client.

“This is not a case where he could ever compensate these people. He wants to work; to be someone his daughter can look up to.” Judge McCourt said in his letter of apology, Shannon expressed a desire to get back on the straight and narrow.

“It appears you engaged in a spree of criminality on December 24, 2018. You colluded with another person and visited two people’s dwellings or their environs intent on carrying out arson because a third party bore a grudge. There was premeditation for profit and there is no compensation.”

He said everyone was entitled to down time and a sense of peace at Christmas.

Noting the positive strides Shannon has made in prison, he sentenced him to two years in jail on the December 24, 2018 charges.

Turning to the arson at the Furlong garage, Judge McCourt said Mr Furlong should be able to carry out his work for the guards without fear of reprisal.

“The grudge in this case was your grudge. The damage in this case was into the hundreds of thousands and the recklessness with which you committed this crime without any consideration for what could happen to people residing close by is quite something.”

Judge McCourt said Mr Furlong’s business which he built up over 30 years was destroyed overnight and he was financially ruined.

He said a five year sentence was suitable, deducting one year for mitigation and suspending six months on the basis that Shannon sign a one year €1,000 bond to keep the peace and be of good behaviour upon his release from prison.

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