Belfast Telegraph

Man 'started fire in south Belfast home after drinking a bottle of rum in under an hour'- court hears

By Alan Erwin

A one-time Oxbridge hopeful allegedly started a fire in his south Belfast home after drinking a bottle of rum in under an hour, the High Court heard today.

James Weale is accused of using a lit candle to inflict damage in a bedroom area while his mother was downstairs with police.

The 31-year-old faces a charge of arson endangering Linda Weale's life over the incident at Malone Park on October 17.

As he mounted an application for bail prosecution counsel alleged that a threat had been issued before thick smoke was detected coming from a second floor landing.

Both Weale and his mother were escorted from the house as fire damage was confined to the top floor.

The barrister claimed the incident escalated when Mrs Weale arrived back home with police.

Small bags containing quantities of possible legal highs were found on the accused, the court heard.

"He was later interviewed and told police he had drank a bottle of rum in under an hour during the afternoon in question," the prosecutor said.

"He found it hard to remember what he was doing and had no recollection of things leading up to his arrest."

Weale was said to have insisted he never had any intention of hurting his mother.

Eugene Grant QC, defending, argued that no-one was at risk during the incident.

He confirmed that a medical expert has ruled out any suggestion of pyromania.

A forensic report into the potential alternative of the fire having started accidentally is still awaited.

Mr Justice Burgess was told Weale had gained 11 Grade A GCSEs before it was decided he should board in Oxford for his A Levels.

But plans for him to complete an Oxbridge education "slipped" amid alcohol and drug problems, the court heard.

"He doesn't like the taste of drink and he's not a social drinker," Mr Grant said.

"He has instructed others and myself that he's been taking these substances to kill the pain of disassociation or loneliness."

The barrister set out further medical issues and problems his client has grappled with.

Weale was also said to have previously worked in hospitality and with his mother, who runs a retail fashion business. 

"He has real ability when he gives focus, but suffers terrible self-loathing at his failure to achieve what was expected of him," Mr Grant added.

He told the court that a specialist and high-powered team has been enlisted to offer help to the accused.

Up to 10 people are prepared to go on a 24-hour rota to ensure Weale complies with any bail conditions.

However, Mr Justice Burgess adjourned the application so he can study reports prepared in the case.

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