A 22-year-old Englishman who moved to Killybegs has been sentenced to 240 hours community service for lighting two fires in a neighbour’s house.
Reginald Greene, who is originally from Coventry, admitted the offences, committed on May 7, 2009, when the case was first before the courts last December. He was before Judge John O’Hagan at Donegal Circuit Court on Tuesday for sentencing.
State Prosecutor Patricia McLaughlin told the court that a fire was reported at 2.58am at 95 Emerald Drive, a council house allocated to Michael O’Shea. The call had been made by the accused, who lived with his then girlfriend, now wife, Pauline Friel at 98 Emerald Drive.
Firemen extinguished two fires, the first of which had started on a bed in a back bedroom and a second, which had started on a sofa. It was determined that there was no forced entry to the house.
Mr O’Shea reported that a set dumbbells belonging to Greene were missing from the house and, Det Gda John Breslin told the court, “that was one of the things that gave rise to suspicion that he may have been involved.” Gardaí were also aware that there had been “a history of conflict” between Mr O’Shea and the couple, including an incident where Pauline Friel claimed that O’Shea had thrown a TV through her window.
On May 15, gardaí obtained a search warrant for 98 Emerald Drive and found the dumbbells. They arrested Greene on May 21 and, in a cautioned statement, he admitted setting the fires.
The court heard that Michael O’Shea had been drinking from the previous afternoon with a friend and the men had “made unwelcome contact” with Pauline Friel and Reginald Greene, who were eating a Chinese meal at The Cope House. O’Shea had taken some food off their plate, chewed it and spat it back out onto their plate, Greene told gardaí. The couple called a taxi and went to a party in Fintra which they left at around 2.15am. Pauline Friel went to bed and Greene went over to O’Shea’s, retrieved his dumbbells and then went back to his neighbour. Greene walked through the house, calling O’Shea’s name. When it was apparent that no one was there, he lit a piece of paper and threw it on a bed, then lit a piece of newpaper and threw it on the sofa.
The accused told the court that he was very angry and had drink taken at the time of the incident. He said he was very sorry for what he had done.
Greene told the court that over the years O’Shea had “broken our children’s toys that they got for Christmas, brought a lit cigarette into a room with an oxygen tank and threatened to blow up our house, smashed windows, gate-crashed our wedding reception and tried to start a row” and was, as barrister Peter Nolan suggested, “a neighbour from hell”.
The couple and their children requested that the council move them to a new area and they were relocated to a house in Stranorlar.
Det Gda Breslin said that Greene had never come to the attention of the gardai before or since this incident. Mr Greene’s actions on the night did not, he said, “show a general tendency by Mr Greene, but rather a specific focus on Mr O’Shea”.
Judge O’Hagan asked whether Mr O’Shea (42) was still a drinker. Gda Breslin said he believed he was.
After reviewing a report from the Probation Service saying that Greene was “highly unlikely to reoffend” and suitable for community service, as well as testimonials from Fr Eddie Gallagher, PP and others describing Greene as a responsible family man, Judge O’Hagan passed sentence.
“The defendant has pleaded guilty to a very serious crime, the deliberate creating of a fire that causes criminal damage. The Oireachtas puts it right up at the top in the hierarchy of offences, with a maximum penalty of life.
“The aggravating features of this case are its deliberate nature and the way it was carried out. He took the dumbbells out of the house, went home and came back again. He says he was druink but he proceeded to use a piece of paper as a kindling object and throw it on to a bed in one room and another into a sofa in another room. It was a deliberate offence, carried out in a rather calculating way.
“There was an opportunity for a cooling off period, which he didn’t take. He was under the influence of drink but not, it seems, to me to the extent that he didn’t know what he was doing.
“The mitigating factors are his full and frank admission to the facts, his early plea, and the probation report’s view that the chances of his reoffending are practically nil.
“Provocation is not a defence for arson but I am aware of what seems to be extreme provocation from Mr O’Shea over a long period of time, so I believe it is mitigating. Taking food off someone’s plate, chewing and spitting it back onto their plate is revolting in the most extreme way, It shows contempt and disrespect and this was not an isolated incident.
“I don’t think that prison is the place for Mr Greene but I must record the fact that it is a very serious crime and must be followed by a serious sentence. I sentence him to four years prison but am imposing 240 hourse community service in lieu.”