Man who tried to set himself on fire at Belfast City Hall escapes a jail sentence for telling housing inspector 'I will torch you'
Published 05/08/2014 | 17:42
An asylum seeker escaped an immediate jail sentence today for brandishing lighter fluid at a housing inspector and telling him: "I want to watch your skin drip to the floor."
Belfast Magistrates' Court heard Faycal Daoud also told the victim he wanted to plunge a knife into him and then set himself on fire.
He was handed a six month prison term, suspended for two years, after being convicted of assault and possessing an offensive weapon with intent.
The incident came just 24 hours after Daoud, a 34-year-old Algerian national, sparked fears that he was indeed trying to turn himself into a human fireball in the centre of Belfast.
A teenager stopped him when he lit flames on the pavement outside City Hall and doused himself in liquid on April 30 this year.
The next day Brian Gallacher and Darrel Smith, acting for the Home Office and Housing Executive, called to inspect Daoud's Cavehill Road asylum accommodation for damp.
The court heard that once Mr Smith left the accused turned on Mr Gallacher with a cigarette lighter and lighter fluid.
It was claimed that he stated: "I will tell you what brother, I'm going to torch you and I want to watch your skin drip to the floor."
Daoud was allegedly persuaded to put the canister down before lifting a knife and issued a second threat about wanting to plunge it into the inspector and watching his blood drip.
Mr Gallacher said he was "horrified" but managed to get out of the flat and fled the scene with his colleague.
Mr Smith, a senior housing officer dealing with asylum properties, said Daoud seemed on edge as soon as they arrived.
He has known the accused for more than a year but accepted their relationship had become "slightly strained".
Giving evidence, Mr Smith said he left after Daoud made threats about another attempt to set himself on fire, either at City Hall or Housing Executive offices.
Minutes later his colleague rushed out, saying he wanted to get away as quick as possible, the court was told.
Defence counsel Michael Boyd claimed both witnesses had invented their account in an attempt to "remove the thorn in the side" his client had become by complaining about the state of his accommodation.
Daoud, who arrived in Northern Ireland in 2012, insisted none of the allegations were true.
He told the court he was happy someone from the Home Office had turned up and promised to get him moved.
Describing himself as a political asylum seeker and activist, he claimed attempts were being made to shut him up.
"It's all a conspiracy," he added.
But backing the prosecution case, District Judge George Conner convicted him of both offences.
"It's enough for me to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant did hold up a knife, a cigarette lighter and canister in the manner alleged and was threatening towards Mr Gallacher," he said.
"The defendants actions do appear irrational and certainly against his best interests."
He was urged by Mr Boyd not to impose an immediate jail sentence.
The barrister argued that Daoud must have been in a poor mental state, pointing out how the incident came "hot on the heels" of his threat to set himself on fire in a protest at City Hall.
Despite being "strongly tempted" to send the defendant straight to prison, Judge Conner instead suspended the sentence for a two-year period.