Belfast Telegraph

Man set fire to estranged wife's home in 'sad attempt' at reuniting

By Michael Donnelly

A 35-year-old father-of-three who set fire to the home of his estranged wife in a "sad and desperate attempt" at getting back with her was yesterday convicted of arson.

It took the Belfast Crown Court jury of seven men and five women just an hour and 40 minutes to unanimously convict Francis McCall of torching the Grosvenor Court home in the city on January 24 last year, and being reckless as to whether life would be endangered.

Earlier, while giving evidence on his own behalf, McCall, of Altan Grove in Dunmurry, rejected prosecution suggestions that "this really is a sad case, a desperate attempt by you to secure a bigger property... and then get back" with his wife.

However, by their verdict the jury also accepted the prosecution case that McCall torched the house while pretending he'd gone back to retrieve his mobile phone, later blaming the blaze on two imagined mystery men.

Judge David McFarland freed McCall on continuing bail before sentencing next month, with the warning that it should not be taken as an indication of how he would deal with him.

However, the judge added that more than £16,000 in public monies was wasted, lost as a result of the fire, and he "would like to see some reimbursement, which will have a major impact on the disposal of the case".

During the two-and-a-half day trial prosecutor Gareth Purvis told the court that on returning to the house McCall heaped clothes in three separate bundles in the kitchen, then doused them with petrol and white spirit before setting them on fire. Mr Purvis also claimed firefighters later found the back door was locked, while the front door was also bolted.

Yesterday McCall told defence counsel Conn O'Neill it was two men who started the blaze, whom he spotted jumping over a fence while making good their escape.

He said as he stepped into the hallway he heard one of them say: "Somebody's coming. Do it now."

He told Mr O'Neill the next thing he remembered was being hit by the kitchen door and blown off his feet. McCall also rejected suggestions that the doors to the house were locked, with the front door bolted.

He said while he locked the door "out of instinct", he'd also unlocked the back door while looking for the family dog, later found hiding by a bin.

During the trial it was revealed, whatever McCall's motivation, his former wife and children no longer lived in the home she just "loved", after the Housing Executive, who paid £16,500 to refurbish it, deemed the family were intentionally homeless by refusing to go into a hostel.

She and her three children now resides in private rented accommodation.

Belfast Telegraph

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