Rough sleeper jailed for setting house on fire

James Joseph Hegarty broke in to vacant house and fell asleep while smoking

James Joseph Hegarty had 94 previous convictions, including for public order and road traffic offences.

James Joseph Hegarty had 94 previous convictions, including for public order and road traffic offences.

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A rough sleeper who broke into a vacant house that was for sale near Listowel and set it on fire after falling asleep drunk on the couch with a cigarette lighting has been jailed.

James Joseph Hegarty(60), of Tullamore, Listowel had entered the house through a back window on a wet and cold evening on November 11th, 2013, the Circuit Criminal Court in Tralee heard.

Hegarty pleaded guilty to arson and to burglary. He was remorseful a previous court heard.

He had been at a funeral that evening and had been turned away from pubs in Listowel .

He bought two bottles of alcohol, 20 cigarettes and took off his wet shoes and socks. Having finished one bottle he lit a cigarette and it set fire to the sofa.

The fire service arrived to fight the blaze at 4. 30am and fire officers found Hegarty asleep in a shed in a highly intoxicated state– he had left his shoes, socks and phone in the bungalow.

He was “the worse for wear and passed out”, Garda Shane Linehan of Listowel agreed with Tom Rice at the sentencing hearing.

Originally, he was from a respectable and well-off farming background, but he turned to drink in his 40s, sold the farm he was left “piecemeal” and drank the proceeds, Judge Thomas E O’Donnell said.

Now a chronic alcoholic, he lives in a mobile home having been taken under the wing of a local man.

Unoccupied

At the time, a purchaser had been identified and the house, owned by a Dublin man, was being sold for €75,000 – but the sale fell through because of the fire and the property was now worth less than €20,000.

The insurance company declined to cover the owner as the building had been unoccupied for a time, the court was told previously.

The judge said gardaí were satisfied the fire was not lit deliberately and no accelerant had been used.

Hegarty had 94 previous convictions, including for public order and road traffic offences. He was convicted of arson in 2014, for an offence dating to 2012.

“The court accepts this was not intentional, but it was clearly reckless, “ the judge said.

There was substantial loss to the owner – the previous arson attack was of concern and so was the probation report, he said. Defence counsel Richard Liston had sought a further adjournment.

“I am not going to adjourn this. This is a serious matter. Arson is a serious charge. It has very serious consequences,” the judge said.

The maximum sentence for arson was life and the appropriate tariff in this case was three years and six months. However the judge suspended the last two years and six months on condition Hegarty entered a bond to keep the peace and would be under the direction of the Probation Service during the period of suspension. The burglary charge was taken into consideration.

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