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Mature student allegedly set his flat on fire after failing part of degree course, court hears

By Alan Erwin

Published 20/07/2015

The accused was released on bail.
The accused was released on bail.

A mature student allegedly set his flat on fire after failing part of a degree course, the High Court heard today.

James Grattan was also dealing with thr break-up of a long-term relationship when the blaze broke out at an apartment complex in north Belfast, a judge was told.

Mr Justice Horner said the fire at Hopefield Avenue on July 11 could have had "disastrous consequences" for others living in the building.

Grattan, 36, faces charges of arson endangering life and criminal damage.

He was granted bail to live with his mother in Newry.

Police and fire crews called to the scene managed to evacuate people from the building, prosecutors said.

One of Grattan's neighbours had gone to Grattan's flat to speak to him about paint being thrown over a van parked outside.

According to prosecution counsel Kate McKay he then noticed the accused's apartment had been "trashed".

The man left, but half an hour later Grattan called at his door to inform him the fire had started, the court heard.

Mrs McKay said when the accused was stopped by police he told them: "I'm the one you're looking for".

Following his arrest Grattan insisted he never intended to hurt anyone.

He allegedly stated: "I warned them I was going to torch the place."

Grattan's flat suffered substantial damage in the blaze, Mrs McKay confirmed.

She said he had been out drinking in bars and a nightclub before returning home to allegedly start trashing his accommodation.

"He expressed genuine remorse and was glad no-one was hurt," the barrister added.

The court was told Grattan should not have been drinking as he was on medication for epilepsy and depression.

He has suffered family bereavements and the break-up of a 15-year relationship.

Mrs McKay added: "He also failed a module in a degree course he's currently undertaking and the combination of things, police would accept, had put him into a very bad place in his personal life."

Defence counsel disclosed that Grattan has been studying psychology counselling in a bid to help him address his issues.

Referring to the alleged arson, he contended: "It's a slightly strange version in that he goes and tells people this is what he has done.

"It's more of a cry for help."

Bail was granted on condition Grattan abides by an alcohol ban, curfew and electronic monitoring.

Mr Justice Horner commented: "The arson itself could have had absolutely disastrous consequences for all those residing in the apartments."

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