A Dublin man who set fire to a car which caused €77,000 damage to an apartment block and destroyed two vehicles has received a partially-suspended, six-year sentence.
Lawyers for Anthony McDonnell (27) said he had done the legal world some good, after McDonnell pleaded guilty to arson when the Supreme Court overturned an earlier acquittal for the offence.
During his initial trial in 2014, Judge Sarah Berkeley directed an acquittal after ruling that CCTV footage showing McDonnell committing the offences was inadmissible because the prosecution had not produced any proof of how the CCTV system worked.
Judge Berkeley said this would include information about “date and time, recordings” and she said these were rather simple matters to be put before the court, adding, “I don’t understand why the prosecution haven’t called that evidence.”
In overturning her decision, the Supreme Court ruled that “CCTV footage…should be regarded as real evidence and not as hearsay,” and “evidence as to its operation and functionality is therefore not required to establish this”.
Judge Berkeley had also ruled that alleged admissions made by McDonnell during garda interviews were inadmissible under rules around the right to silence.
The Supreme Court also overturned this ruling, saying gardaí had a right to question McDonnell a number of times because he had failed to account for his presence at the scene of the crime.
The Supreme Court concluded that Judge Berkeley was mistaken in her rulings and ordered a re-trial. McDonnell was listed for trial last April when he pleaded guilty to arson.
Dominic McGinn SC, defending, said that the Supreme Court ruling has become seminal case law and was known as the AMcD case.
He said that his client had assisted the legal world but the process had left McDonnell in the “invidious” position of finding himself facing a prosecution after getting an acquittal in 2014.
He said his client managed to stay out of trouble after this until May 2017, when he committed a robbery. He was sentenced four years and six months for this offence.
McDonnell, formerly of St Teresas Gardens, Dublin 8, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to arson at Camden apartments, Dublin on August 19, 2011.
On Friday, Judge Melanie Greally imposed a six-year sentence with the final two and a half years suspended, on strict conditions.
Garda Edward Laffan told John Quirke BL, prosecuting, that McDonnell used a can of petrol to set one car on fire but the blaze spread to a second car before the fire brigade were able to put it out.
He said the two cars were destroyed and it was extremely lucky that no other vehicles went on fire. He said the fire could have set the nearby building alight and posed an extreme danger to the residents in the apartment.
He said the damage to the building was not structural, but consisted of damage to interior wiring and servicing.
Mr McGinn said his client had since completed a difficult course in football coaching. He said the 2017 robbery convictions were due to his relapsing into drug use.
The court heard McDonnell told gardaí that he didn’t intend to damage the building and he was sorry to anyone affected by the fire.
Judge Greally set a headline sentence at eight years due the “level of damage caused and the risk to which he exposed residents and also fire services”.
She reduced this term taking into account McDonnell’s guilty plea, his young age, the “limited” admissions he made when rearrested and his drug addiction at the time. Judge Greally noted he had come from a respectable family and was applying himself well in prison.
The judge ordered he undergo 18 months of probation service supervision and engage in all training opportunities and directions as required.