Belfast Telegraph

Homeless man, who allegedly lit a fire in a derelict Belfast house to keep warm, convicted of arson

By Alan Erwin

A homeless man who allegedly lit a fire in a derelict house in a bid to keep warm was convicted today of arson.

David Shields recklessly started the blaze which caused extensive damage to the property on University Street in south Belfast, a judge ruled.

With the 34-year-old defendant having failed to show for the contested hearing, a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Shields was charged with damaging or destroying the already poorly maintained house by fire, either intentionally or through recklessness.

Belfast Magistrates' Court heard how he had gone into it seeking shelter on October 8 last year.

His lawyer argued that the blaze occurred accidentally.

Shields was said to have started a fire in the fireplace before it got out of control - allegedly after he left the area.

"There's no evidence he lit it in an inappropriate place other than allowing for the fact the house is in a bad state of affairs," the defence barrister contended.

"On his own case he lit a fire in an attempt to keep warm and it appears to have got the better of him."

A prosecutor countered, however, that Shields should have foreseen the dangers of leaving a fire unattended in a property in such a bad state.

Expressing concerns about Shields' credibility and reliability, District Judge Broderick convicted him of the arson.

He said: "I'm satisfied the prosecution have proved beyond reasonable doubt he started this fire.

"It was a derelict house and I believe he was reckless in doing so."

The judge then issued a warrant to have him arrested and brought to court for sentencing.

Mr Broderick also confirmed: "He was convicted exclusively on the basis of recklessness."

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