Co Armagh house arsonist gets seven-year sentence ‘to protect the public’

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A 24-year-old man who set fire to a house in Tandragee has been handed a seven-year sentence to protect the public.

Montassar Ghadghadi, who is originally from Tunisia, was found guilty by a jury earlier this year on a charge of arson endangering life after a house at Market Street Court in the Co Armagh town was deliberately set on fire in June 2013.

Belfast Crown Court heard that despite the guilty verdict Ghadghadi, from Clonavon Avenue in Portadown, continues to deny involvement and blames his victim.

The occupant of the targeted property – which sustained over £60,000-worth of damage – was not at home at the time. However, she lost a number of irreplaceable personal items in relation to a dead child and her life was disrupted for around a year as a result of the arson attack.

The house was targeted at around 9am on June 13, 2013, and the female occupant was a close friend of Ghadghadi’s then girlfriend. During the trial, she told the jury that she and Ghadghadi didn’t get on.

Prior to sentence being passed, Crown prosecutor Kate McKay described the arson attack as “well planned” and pointed out that Ghadghadi broke into the property and deliberately started two seats of fire – one upstairs and one downstairs.

She also said that the arson attack has had a “major impact” on the female occupant, especially concerning the loss of items “that simply cannot be replaced” in relation to her deceased child.

Defence barrister Gavan Duffy QC said his client first came to Northern Ireland in 2009 to visit his brother who was already living and working in Co Armagh.

Ghadghadi came back in 2011 and married a local girl, but due to problems the marriage didn’t last.

In June 2013 Ghadghadi was in another relationship which resulted in a child – however, that relationship has also now ended.

Mr Duffy described his client as “emotionally immature” and said he grew up in Tunisia in a patriarchal family where he witnessed physical and mental abuse by his father upon his mother.

Passing sentence, Judge Gordon Kerr QC pointed out that despite his conviction, Ghadghadi continues to deny the offence, claims he had been set up, and blames his victim.

Citing the arson attack as “revenge-based” and “well planned”, Judge Kerr spoke of both the amount of damage caused to the property and the upset caused to the female occupant.

Judge Kerr also revealed that Ghadghadi has been deemed as dangerous and seen to present a risk of harm to the public by the Probation Board of Northern Ireland.

The judge handed Ghadghadi a five-year sentence, with an extended two-year period of supervised licence imposed to protect the public.