Belfast Telegraph

Mother set Lisburn home on fire as two sons slept

By John Cassidy

A mother has admitted setting fire to her home as her two sons slept upstairs after she spent the day drinking and sniffing solvents.

Aine Kennedy (38), of Milltown Avenue, Lisburn, wept as she was remanded in custody after a judge said he needed time to consider reports before passing sentence.

At Craigavon Crown Court Kennedy pleaded guilty to arson with intent to endanger life or being reckless as to if the lives of her sons would be endangered.

The court heard the defendant and her children were saved by a neighbour who heard the smoke alarm and the defendant crying for help on April 21 last year.

Nicola Auret, prosecuting, told Judge Gordon Kerr that Kennedy had been smoking, drinking and sniffing solvents before putting her children to bed at 9pm.

When fire crews entered the property they found four sources of fire. The main one was in the living room and had been started beside the sofa. Two smaller fires were in the kitchen and a fourth was in the hallway.

After Kennedy was arrested a short time later, she told told police: "It was a total accident. I would not hurt the kids or me.'' She also claimed to have no recollection of events after 9.30pm on the night of the fire.

The prosecution lawyer said Kennedy had a 23-year history of solvent abuse and admitted she had been drinking and smoking around the time of the blaze.

Judge Kerr QC was told that during a search of the property investigators found 34 butane gas cannisters between the living room, kitchen and her bedroom. Lighters were also recovered.

A defence barrister told the court that Kennedy had been at pains to express her "great appreciation and thanks'' to the neighbour for forcing a window and saving her family.

Describing the man's actions as "heroic'', the lawyer added: "No one could more be full of remorse than herself.''

The lawyer also told how Kennedy had been abusing solvents from her early teens and had been in a troubled marriage.

He said her sons were now being brought up by her sister and husband, and there was no prospect of the them being returned to her in the near future.

The court was told Kennedy held down a good but stressful job organising theatre schedules, and her barrister said the position had a "stabilising" influence on her.

"If the court decides there is no option but prison, then her job would go," he added. "This is a case crying out for compassion and I would ask the court to stay its hand on imposing an immediate custodial sentence."

Judge Kerr QC said he required time to consider documents submitted to the court. They include a probation report saying Kennedy posed a "medium risk of reoffending'' and a medical report saying she was at a "medium-to-high risk of reoffending''.

"She'll be remanded in custody until Thursday when I will pass sentence,'' added Judge Kerr QC.

Kennedy, who was dressed in a black trouser suit and cream blouse, sobbed as she left the dock to be taken away to the women's prisoner unit at Hydebank Wood in south Belfast.

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