A man who set fire to a makeshift den in Tallaght, causing the death of a 12-year-old boy, has lost an appeal against the severity of his 15-year prison sentence.
Dermot Griffin (58) of Ballyfermot Road, Ballyfermot, in Dublin was found guilty following a 13-day trial of the manslaughter of Stephen Hughes (12) at Rossfield Avenue, Tallaght on September 1st, 2001.
He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court by Judge Patricia Ryan on June 23rd, 2014.
Dismissing Griffin's appeal against his conviction on all grounds in March, President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said a fire was started in a makeshift den which resulted in the death of Stephen Hughes.
The den had been built by a group of children during August 2001. On the night in question Stephen Hughes (12) and Daryl Hall (14), had slept in it. When it caught fire, Daryl managed to escape but Stephen did not.
At trial the jury viewed footage from the house of a neighbour which showed an unidentified man approaching the den at about 5am, and the den catching fire immediately thereafter. The man appeared to have a dog with him.
Griffin was interviewed in 2001 and at that stage stated that he had stayed indoors on the night in question along with then partner, Tracy Deegan, who gave him an alibi.
He said that he only left the house after he heard screaming.
His story was supported at the time by Ms Deegan and she confirmed this again in 2006 when the case was re-examined.
That year, 2006, a witness named Linda Prentice informed gardaí that she had seen Griffin setting fire to the den after telling gardaí in 2001 that she had not seen anything.
Also in 2006, James Farrelly came forward to say he too had seen Griffin, and that he had threatened him, telling him he would kill him if he opened his mouth.
In 2012, Ms Deegan admitted lying to gardaí in earlier investigations. She stated that Griffin left the house twice on the night of the fire and that he told her he was going to burn the hut down.
Upholding Griffin’s 15 year sentence on Monday, Mr Justice Birmingham said the circumstances of this particular offence were “very, very serious”.
In terms of harm done, he said the killing of a 12 year-old child must be regarded as being very high on the scale. It involved extreme recklessness.
Even taking the most favourable view to Griffin - that is, that any occupants would have had an opportunity to escape - he showed an “utter disregard” to the extreme risk to human life he was creating.
Mr Justice Birmingham said mitigation was limited. The case was contested and his record of 39 previous convictions, including a seven year sentence served for drugs offences, was “very poor”.
The President of the Court of Appeal, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the court was satisfied that the sentence fell within the appropriate range available to the sentencing judge and the court could find no basis to intervene. The appeal was therefore dismissed.