Gary Collins was caught inside the prison grounds where he proceeded to set fires and steal items including screwdrivers and e-cigarettes
Newtownabbey man Gary Collins was caught inside the grounds of Hydebank Wood prison where he proceeded to set fires and steal items including screwdrivers and e-cigarettes.
When he appeared at Newtownards Magistrates' Court for sentencing this week a judge was left scratching his head making the point: “Generally people try to break out of Hydebank Wood rather than break into it".
District Judge Mark Hamill made the comment after telling 21-year-old Collins, of Crossreagh Drive in Rathcoole, he would defer his sentence until next summer to see how he behaves.
According to Court News NI the serial arsonist was warned he would actually be sent to prison if he didn’t stop starting fires.
Initially police put out a request for help to find Collins after family said he’d disappeared after going for a walk in Belvoir Forest in south Belfast which is not far from Hydebank.
Police announced he’d be found “safe and well” around 36 hours after going ‘missing’ but it now emerges he had broken into the grounds of the well known jail which houses young offenders as well as women.
Collins pleaded guilty to arson and criminal damage to a building belonging to Hydebank Wood Young offenders’ Centre' as well as the theft of screwdrivers, keys, gloves and an e-cigarette from the building.
A prosecutor said a fire occurred at a "derelict building" and when security staff saw a damaged window they saw a male who addressed one of the security officers by name causing them to believe he had been a "previous inmate".
He said Collins had been reported as a "missing person" and, added, Collins told police he had "slept in a wooded area outside Hydebank" and lit a fire to keep himself warm.
The prosecutor said the defendant told police he broke a window to get into a portable building and "walked around the abandoned building and tried to open gates" and had lit a fire in an archway which he left unattended.
A defence lawyer said it "was a shed in the grounds of Hydebank" which was "just outside" a "secure" area.
Judge Hamill said although it was a "pretty unusual" case it was concerning that it was Collins' third conviction for arson.
He deferred sentencing on the current case until July 2023 and wanted positive engagement from Collins with an existing Probation Order and no further offending.
If that was the case in a year's time the judge said a non-custodial option could be considered, then.
Judge Hamill warned Collins: "If you set alight to anything else in the meantime you give the court no option.”