Belfast Telegraph

Arsonist left £330k trail of destruction at old Belfast Telegraph building

Cristian Stefan Topiter (33), of Parkmore, Craigavon in Co Armagh, pleaded guilty to charges of burglary and arson
Cristian Stefan Topiter (33), of Parkmore, Craigavon in Co Armagh, pleaded guilty to charges of burglary and arson

By John Cassidy

A man who broke into and started a fire in the former Belfast Telegraph building caused £330,000 of damage, a court heard yesterday.

Cristian Stefan Topiter (33), of Parkmore, Craigavon in Co Armagh, pleaded guilty to charges of burglary and arson.

Belfast Crown Court heard that on February 21, 2018, Topiter had "sneaked into" the historic four-storey building on Belfast's Royal Avenue when workers had left.

Prosecution lawyer Philip Henry said once inside the defendant "secreted himself in the ceiling" of the first floor.

He told Judge Patricia Smyth that at 6.15pm CCTV showed Topiter "falling through the ceiling and landing on the floor".

The prosecutor said that over the course of the next four hours, the CCTV footage recorded the defendant "roaming around the building wearing a back pack".

Topiter showed particular interest to a first floor technology hub owned by Digital Catapult Ltd and was captured "filling his back pack with electronic items".

Mr Henry said that at around 9.30pm CCTV footage showed him "starting a fire with combustibles" and a report by a Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) watch commander later said the fire had been started "deliberately".

Judge Smith heard that shortly before 11pm, Topiter smashed a window and cut himself when leaving the building.

DNA recovered from the scene matched Topiter and he was later arrested at an immigration detention centre in Glasgow where he was awaiting deportation.

The prosecution lawyer said that it wasn't until 3.30am the following morning that the NIFRS was alerted to the fire. Extensive damage was caused to the building which is currently owned by Belfast City Council.

Mr Henry said that the most up to date assessment of the damage put the bill at £279,000.

He added a further £51,000 of damage was caused to equipment at Digital Catipult.

Topiter has a previous conviction in Northern Ireland for arson and two theft convictions in his native Romania.

Both the prosecution and defence agreed that a sentencing range of 18 to 20 months was appropriate on his guilty plea.

Remanding the defendant back into custody, Judge Smith said she wanted to consider the papers in the case and would pass sentence on Tuesday.

Belfast Telegraph

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