A Co Down woman has been spared prison for starting a fire at her home which led to the death of an elderly neighbour almost two years ago.
Karen Hasson (59), of Thorndale Park, Carryduff, was given 100 hours community service along with two years’ probation after pleading guilty to the manslaughter of 91-year-old Samuel Carson.
Passing the sentence at Downpatrick Crown Court yesterday, Judge Piers Grant told Hasson: “No sentence this court could pass can bring Mr Carson back to life.
“What you did was very serious. You started a fire which you did not contemplate would cause harm to anyone which resulted in the tragic loss and tragic death of an innocent individual and a decent individual.”
The court had previously heard that Hasson had started the fire in the garage of the marital home from a lit cigarette on September 1, 2014, following a row with her husband.
The fire spread to a neighbouring house setting a plastic oil tanks on fire which sent a river of ignited fuel to Mr Carson’s oil tank, setting it ablaze before the flames engulfed his bungalow and killing him as a result of smoke inhalation.
Judge Grant added that Hasson started the fire as a result of a breakdown in her marriage with her husband and that she had she had considered taking her own life.
In a Facebook message to her husband on the day of the fire, Hasson told her husband: “May you burn in hell”.
Paddy Lyttle QC, defending, told the court that at the time of the incident, Karen Hasson was suffering from “significant anguish and mental distress”.
“She has asked me to express the most heartfelt sympathy, her condolences, her sorrow, her regret, her remorse for what she did. These are not crocodile tears,” he said.
The defence QC urged the court not to send Hasson to prison, saying a pre-sentence report stated she could be dealt with by way of a combined community service and probation order.
Sentencing today, Judge Grant said it was evident from the medical reports that Hasson had been suffering from mental and psychiatric problems over many years for which she had received treatment.
He said that “as time passed these problems were exacerbated” following the death of her own mother who had also suffered from a mental health illness.
A psychiatric report said that Hasson a previous history of self harming but “had not intention of causing harm to anyone else’’.
The judge said that a Victim Impact Report from Mr Carson’s family, friends and neighbours described him as “a much loved, a very good and decent man and was going to be sadly missed”.
Offering the family the condolences of the court, Judge Grant said the loss Of Mr Carson “in such a devastating incident in such dreadful circumstances” was something his family, friends and neighbours would have to live for “much of their lives. There loss is irreplaceable.’’
The judge said that Hasson had expressed her “sorrow, remorse and regret” which he accepted was genuine and hoped this would “help in assuaging the grief’’ of Mr Carson’s family.
Stating that her culpability was “at the lower end of the scale”, he added that that “the harm caused was at the highest level’’.
But Judge Grant said that he was satisfied that she did not pose a “future risk of offending’’
“It should be accepted that no court can bring Mr Carson back to life....and no sentence imposed can recoil them to their loss.”
Describing the offence as “very serious’’, the judge said the “custodial threshold had been passed and I must consider the imposition of a custodial sentence in a sense to mark the public’s concern and also to protect the public from future harm’’.
Judge Grant said there were a number of mitigating factors which included her early admissions to the offences, her remorse, her mental health condition and her clear record.
The judge imposed the maximum penalty of 100 hours community service and two years on probation, and warned Hasson: “You will not get a second chance. There will be serious consequences if you do not comply with this combination order.
“As the sentence was passed, some members of Mr Carson’s family sobbed in the public gallery.