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Lisburn mother weeps in the dock after admitting house fire

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A mother was remanded in custody on Tuesday to await sentence after she admitted setting fire to her home while she and her two children were inside.

Aine Kennedy, 38, of Milltown Avenue, Lisburn, wept in the dock as she was led to the cells after a judge said he needed time to consider a number of reports before passing sentence.

Kennedy pleaded guilty at Craigavon Crown Court to a single count of arson with intent to endanger life or being reckless as to whether the lives of her sons would be endangered.

The court heard that on Sunday, April 21, 2013, the defendant and her two young sons were plucked to safety by a neighbour after he heard a smoke alarm going off in Kennedy’s adjoining home.

Prosecution counsel Nicola Auret told Judge Gordon Kerr that Kennedy was at home and had been smoking, drinking and taking solvents during the day.

Ms Auret said that defendant’s two sons went up to bed around 9pm and Kennedy consumed a number of Bacardi spirit drinks and took solvents from butane gas canisters.

“A neighbour heard the smoke alarm going off around 11.30pm and also heard the defendant shouting for help,” said Ms Auret.

The next door neighbour forced his way in through a rear window and took Kennedy and her two sons to safety.

Fire crews were called, the court heard, and investigators found four seats of fire in the property.

Ms Auret said the main seat of fire was in the living room which had been started beside a sofa and damaged the carpet. Two smaller fires were found in the kitchen and a fourth in the hallway.

Kennedy was arrested by police at 1.07 am the following morning on suspicion of arson and during interview she told PSNI officers: “It was a total accident. I would not hurt the kids or me.”

The court heard Kennedy told police that she no recollection of events after 9.30pm on the Sunday night.

The prosecution lawyer said Kennedy had a history of solvent abuse dating back 23 years and admitted at the time of the fire she had been drinking, smoking and had taken butane gas

Judge Kerr QC was told that during a search of the property, investigators found a total of 34 butane gas canisters between the living room, the kitchen and her bedroom. A number of lighters were also recovered.

The court heard that although accelerants were found, investigators could not rule the possibility that butane gas had been used to start the fires.

A defence barrister told the court that Kennedy had been at pains to express her “great appreciation and thanks” to the neighbour for saving her and her family.

Describing the neighbours actions as “heroic”, the lawyer added: “It is no exaggeration of the facts that they got out of this blaze in one piece.

“No one could more be full of remorse than herself.”

The lawyer added that Kennedy had been “abusing solvents from her early teens” and had also been in a troubled marriage.

He said that her young sons were now being brought up her sister and husband and there was no prospect of the them being returned to her “in the near future. In fact, her family, who have been very supportive throughout, would not allow that to happen.”

Kennedy, the court heard, held down a “very good but stressful job” in organising theatre schedules.

“If the court decides that there is no other option but to send her to prison, then her job would go. It is an important job which has a very stabilising effect on her.

“This is a case crying out for compassion and I would ask the court to stay its hand on imposing an immediate custodial sentence,” the defence lawyer added.

Judge Kerr QC said he required time to consider a number of documents lodged into court.

They included a probation report which said Kennedy posed a “medium risk of reoffending” whereas a medical report stated she was a “medium to high risk of reoffending”.

“The defendant will be remanded in custody until Thursday when I will pass sentence,” added Judge Kerr QC.

Kennedy, who was dressed in a black trouser suit and cream blouse, sobbed as she left the dock to be taken away to the women’s prisoner unit at Hydebank Wood in south Belfast.

 

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