West Belfast arsonist put lives of neighbours at risk

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A 35-year-old father-of-six who put the lives of his neighbours as risk when he set fire to his rented accommodation has been handed a three-year sentence.

Gerard McConville – who has 85 previous criminal convictions – started nine different fires at his Colinview Street home in west Belfast in the early hours of April 28 last year.

He will spend half of the sentence in prison, with the rest on supervised licence upon his release.

A couple living next door had to evacuate their home along with their four children due to an act that was described as “deliberate” at Belfast Crown Court.

It cost the landlord of the property an estimated £27,000 to repair the property.

Crown prosecutor Rosemary Walsh said that around 5.45am on the morning in question, neighbours of McConville were woken from their sleep by loud banging. Ms Walsh said the noise was “loud enough to alert three neighbours to look out of their windows”.

These neighbours then saw McConville leaving his property and walking down the street, and he was heard saying ‘don’t phone anyone or I will burn the rest of you out’ – even though there was no-one on the street.

The residents then smelt and saw smoke coming from McConville’s house, prompting the emergency services to be called.

It emerged that McConville had set nine separate fires in the property using either matches or a lighter, including burning the electric box, the sofa and armchair, clothing and a cushion in a bedroom.

When McConville was arrested he initially denied setting his own home on fire. However, he later pleaded guilty to a charge of causing arson endangering life.

Defence barrister Luke Curran spoke of his client’s troubled background which included the death of his father at an early age and spells in both foster care and children’s homes.

Mr Curran also revealed that McConville was “addicted to alcohol”, had been drinking since the age of around eight but had made efforts to address this dependency.

Pointing out that McConville acknowledged that he put his neighbours at risk, the barrister told Judge David McFarland that his client was “deeply remorseful for his actions”.