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Family's dismay as house blaze killer walks free: Anger over 'lenient' sentence handed down following death of 91-year-old man

By Deborah McAleese

Published 18/06/2016

Karen Hasson at court yesterday
Karen Hasson at court yesterday
Relatives of Samuel Carson
Samuel Carson
The scene of the fire

The family of a beloved father and grandfather wept as the woman who killed him in a house fire walked free from court.

Karen Hasson, who started a fire that killed her 91-year-old neighbour, was yesterday spared jail by a judge who said she would be burdened by the guilt for the rest of her life.

Hasson (59), of Thorndale Park, Carryduff, admitted the manslaughter of her elderly neighbour Samuel Carson, who died in his home almost two years ago.

She had started a fire in the garage of her home which ignited the oil tank after she had a row with her husband over furniture. Burning oil then spread to the house next door and set Mr Carson's bungalow on fire, killing him.

Yesterday, Hasson was sentenced to 100 hours community service and two years on probation at Downpatrick Crown Court. The sentencing judge said that human life can't be restored by a prison sentence.

Mr Carson's devastated family said they were disappointed by the sentence imposed by the court.

The widowed grandfather had been trying to escape from his house when he was overcome by smoke. He died as a result of smoke inhalation.

The court heard that on September 1, 2014 Hasson had been living at the marital home with her husband Brian when she started the fire. Their relationship at the time was strained.

Mr Hasson was asleep in bed when he was woken by his wife calling out for him.

He saw her at the side of the garage with a hose trying to extinguish flames. Mr Hasson grabbed the hose but there was not enough pressure to put out the blaze.

During police inquiries, detectives found a message on Facebook from Hasson to her husband dated September 1.

It read: "YOU REALLY ARE A B****** - may you burn in hell. You and **** really are quite alike. Both using women to get what you want. Mind you, I am a great believer in what goes around, comes around.

"I would like to say it was nice knowing you ... But it wasn't! You caused so much pain and hurt over the years and you seem to take enjoyment."

Yesterday Judge Piers Grant said he accepted that Hasson had not intended to harm anyone.

He said her relationship with her husband at the time had been strained and she had been "seriously troubled". The judge sad she had started the fire with the intention of taking her own life or as a cry for help.

Hasson sat shaking in the dock with her head bowed as the judge told her: "Your judgment was overburdened by your sense of despair. You could not have contemplated these chain of events."

"You will have to carry the burden of the consequences of your actions for the rest of your life. That will be a heavy burden for you to carry," he added.

In a victim impact report to the court, Mr Carson's daughter described her father as a "very good and decent man" who was much loved and sadly missed.

Judge Grant said that the loss of Mr Carson is an irreparable one for his family.

He added however: "No court can bring Mr Carson back to life and no sentence can reconcile his family to their loss. Human life cannot be restored by a prison sentence… justice should be seasoned with mercy in the appropriate circumstances."

Some of Mr Carson's family cried and shook their heads as Judge Grant imposed a non-custodial sentence of a combined community and probation order.

"It is a sentence that will both punish you, rehabilitate you and hold you to account," he told Hasson.

He added: "You will be required to pay significant debt to society. What you did was very, very serious. It is a merciful sentence."

Mr Carson's family said they were "disappointed by the sentence handed down by the Judge".

However, they added they are glad "that this now brings closure to the terrible circumstances" of their father's death.

Detective Sergeant Ian Davis, from the PSNI's Serious Crime Branch, said the "reckless act" carried out by Hasson "led to the needless death of a much-loved father, grandfather and great grandfather".

He added: "This was a tragic case and the thoughts of the investigation team are very much with Mr Carson's family."

Councillor for the area, Jonathan Craig, said he was shocked by the "leniency" of the sentence.

"This was a terrible case and I think the judge has got it wrong. It is another example of the judiciary being too lenient," the DUP man said.

He added: "An innocent man lost his life because of the actions of this woman. I'm shocked no custodial sentence was imposed."

Judges are bound by sentencing guidelines and must take into account mitigating circumstances, such as early guilty pleas, co-operation with police and remorse, as well as aggravating factors, such as intent and excessive violence.

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