Belfast Telegraph

Judge cites Grenfell Tower tragedy as he jails NI flats arsonist

By Nevin Farrell

A lawyer who assured a court that there was little chance of a fire started by his client in a four-storey flats complex spreading was told by a judge: "Tell that to the people in Grenfell."

The reference by District Judge Liam McNally at Coleraine Magistrates Court to the London tower block inferno came as he jailed Reece Louden (22) of Church Street, Portstewart, for four months for arson.

The restaurant worker previously pleaded guilty to damaging a letterbox belonging to Radius Housing at Weavers Court in Coleraine.

A resident heard an alarm at 6am on Saturday, February 18 this year and managed to put the fire out.

A prosecutor said two men were seen running away and getting into a vehicle, and £500 worth of damage was caused to a letterbox. The prosecutor said no one was injured after the fire alarm sounded.

The court heard that Louden told police he was drunk and thought it would be "funny" to pretend to set fire to the door, and he panicked when the letterbox ignited.

Defence solicitor Brendan McLernon said his client used a lighter in what was a "foolish, reckless act" and, when sober, he made a full admission. He said Louden had gone with two others to a "drinking flat" and after knocking on the door was told by the occupants to go home.

Mr McLernon said it was not a case where people had been sleeping when his client set fire to the door, which he didn't believe would take hold. When it created a "good deal of smoke" he "panicked", but punched a fire alarm to activate it and ran off.

The solicitor said there was little chance of the fire spreading, and that was when Judge McNally made his comments.

Mr McLernon replied: "I certainly don't want this coloured by the London tragedy, it is an entirely different scale."

Describing it as "stupidity of the highest order", the solicitor said it would have been very difficult for it to become an active fire as Louden had not used any accelerants, rags or papers.

Judge McNally told Louden: "You shouldn't play with fire because you never know what will happen". Louden was released on his own bail of £500 pending appeal.

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