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arson attack Personal trainer who set fire to detective's home loses sentence appeal

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Richard Bourke in 2003

Richard Bourke in 2003

Richard Bourke in 2003

A Dublin arsonist has lost his appeal against sentence for setting fire to the home of a detective involved in charging him with murder two decades earlier.

The three-judge court said that their only consideration was whether they should, in fact increase his eight-year jail term.

Richard Bourke, who was ultimately acquitted of the murder charge, had said that he was ‘off his face’ on alcohol and drugs when he lit a small flame at the front door of the Finglas house, while the occupants were sleeping.

The personal trainer later returned to throw petrol on the flame, which had a ‘fireball effect’.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court was told at Bourke’s sentence hearing that Detective Garda John Griffin's wife woke up to the sound of their fire alarm at 3am before the couple found smoke bellowing into their hall. The attack had left an “indelible scar” on the family, the court heard.

Bourke (37), of Sycamore Park, also in Finglas in Dublin, had pleaded guilty to two counts of arson at separate locations in the area on February 26, 2019.

He said at the time that the detective had him ‘up on a murder charge’, that he was ‘over it’ but that it was ‘like a f*** you’ to D Gda Griffin. He said that he had no intention of hurting anyone.

Judge Patricia Ryan said that there had been an element of premeditation. She noted that the arson was carried out at night and that Bourke knew the house was occupied.

She set a headline sentence of 11 years and suspended the final three years, taking into account mitigating factors.

Bourke today appealed the severity of that sentence to the Court of Appeal.

His barrister, Luigi Rea BL, argued that there had been a lack of consideration regarding Bourke’s early plea of guilty, and that the judge had failed to adequately take account of his ‘excellent work record over the years’, in spite of a ‘very difficult childhood’ and the fact that he was a ‘good father’ to a number of children.

“He took great pride in that,” said counsel.

Court President Justice George Birmingham remarked that, had he been the sentencing judge in the Circuit Court, he would have given a sentence of 14 or 15 years, and that Judge Ryan had been very lenient.

Justice Isobel Kennedy agreed that a much more serious sentence could easily have been warranted.

“This was at 3am in an occupied dwelling, where he knew who occupied it and held some sort of grudge over 20 years,” she said. “How could you possibly say that the sentence is out of line?”

Mr Rea agreed that his client had received a sentence that most people would regard as unduly lenient. However, this would be without knowing of his background and very difficult childhood, knowledge the three judges had.

Fiona McGowan BL responded on behalf of the DPP.

She submitted that this was a case, which was always going to attract a considerable custodial sentence. It involved deliberate, serious offending in a residential area at night, she said, with very considerable effects on the victims.

She said that the judge had approached her task with particular care, and that the sentence she had imposed was within the available range.

Justice Patrick McCarthy, who sat with Justice Birmingham, presiding, and Justice Kennedy delivered an ex tempore judgment this afternoon.

“We think the sentence imposed was certainly lenient,” he said. “The only matter we had to consider was whether we should quash the sentence and impose a longer one.”

He said that it was with some hesitation that they decided to content themselves with dismissing the appeal, and they did so.

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