Belfast Telegraph

Solvent addict who torched her Lisburn home as kids slept avoids jail

By John Cassidy

A mother who set fire to her home while high on drink and solvents as her two sons slept upstairs has been spared prison and released on probation.

Judge Gordon Kerr QC told Aine Kennedy (38), of Milltown Avenue, Lisburn, that "arson is an extremely serious offence which could have led to the death of you and your children''.

However, he added that, having considered the aggravating and mitigating factors – and her "genuine remorse" for the incident – he had decided a three-year probation order was the most appropriate sentence.

But the judge warned her: "If you breach this order or commit any further offences you will go straight to prison."

The mother, who appeared at Craigavon Crown Court yesterday, was remanded in custody earlier this week after the judge said he wanted time to consider reports before sentencing.

Kennedy had already pleaded guilty to a single count of arson being reckless as to whether the lives of her sons, aged 10 and eight, would be endangered.

The court heard that the defendant had spent the day of April 21 last year smoking, drinking and sniffing solvents.

After her sons went to bed around 9pm, Kennedy drank a number of alcoholic drinks and inhaled more solvents from butane gas canisters.

Several hours later, at around 11.30pm, a neighbour and his wife heard a smoke alarm going off in the property and the defendant screaming out for help, after which the man forced a window and led the trio to safety.

Judge Kerr, who praised the neighbour for saving the family, said a mitigating factor in Kennedy's favour was that she "had called out for help", as otherwise, "the police could have been investigating three deaths".

After fire crews were called investigators found four sources of fire in the property. Kennedy was then arrested by police the following morning on suspicion of arson.

During an interview she told officers: "It was a total accident. I don't know how the fire started. I would not hurt the kids or me. It has been the cooker. Oh my God."

The defendant also claimed she had no recollection of the events of the night after 9.30pm.

A prosecution lawyer said Kennedy had a history of solvent abuse dating back 23 years and that she had admitted drinking, smoking and sniffing gas before the blaze broke out.

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

A defence barrister said Kennedy had been at pains to express her "great appreciation and thanks'' to the neighbour for saving her and her family.

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

The lawyer added that Kennedy had been "abusing solvents from her early teens'' and had also been in a troubled marriage.

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

Judge Kerr conceded that Kennedy had been suffering from depression after she ended her marriage to an abusive husband, and that she had a long history of solvent abuse.

He also said that, after considering the "highly exceptional circumstances of the case'' and that her children were no longer in her care, he had decided to impose a probation order.

This, Judge Kerr added, would allow Kennedy to continue her work with addiction programmes under the supervision of the Probation Service, and it would also allow her to maintain contact with her children.

Belfast Telegraph

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