Woman gets 10 years for manslaughter of friends in Cork flat

Court hears remorseful Rachel Crawshaw suffered history of drug and alcohol abuse

The judge said that he would take Rachel Crawshaw’s guilty plea into account, but it remained an appalling crime in which two men had lost their lives. File photograph: Getty Images

The judge said that he would take Rachel Crawshaw’s guilty plea into account, but it remained an appalling crime in which two men had lost their lives. File photograph: Getty Images

 

A 29-year-old woman with a history of alcohol and drug abuse has been jailed for 10 years after she pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of two of her friends when she set fire to their flat in Co Cork during a binge-drinking session.

Rachel Crawshaw, a native of Mallow but of no fixed abode, pleaded guilty to the unlawful killing of John Palmer (37) and Greg Lonergan (36), at Granary Court, St Joseph’s Road, Mallow, and to committing arson at the same address between March 12th and March 13th, 2014.

On Wednesday at Cork Circuit Criminal Court, Insp Michael Corbett told how Garda Liam Phillips and Garda Caitriona O’Sullivan braved thick smoke to get to the top floor to find Christopher Palmer (37) unconscious and Crawshaw drunk.

They got both casualties out to safety before evacuating other occupants from the building. Firefighters later recovered the bodies of Mr Palmer’s twin brother John and Mr Lonergan, which were located in the living area of the top floor flat which the Palmer brothers were renting.

A Garda forensic investigation established there were three separate seats to the fire in the Palmers’ flat and gardaí later arrested Crawshaw and quizzed her about the blaze. But she had little recollection of the night as she and the two Palmers and Mr Lonergan had been on a drinking binge.

The court heard victim impact statements from relatives of the deceased including Mr Palmer’s twin brother, Christopher, who said that he and his brother had always been very close. “We were always there for each other from the day that we could walk,” he said.

Anger and despair

Meanwhile several of Mr Lonergan’s relatives also spoke of their loss including his sister, Caroline who said there were no words to describe “the pain, anger and despair” the family felt on learning of their brother’s death and the realisation he was gone forever was “devastating and crushing”.

Defence counsel Marjorie Farrelly SC pleaded for leniency, saying that it would have been a difficult case to secure a prosecution without Crawshaw’s guilty plea. And she added that while Crawshaw had 29 previous convictions, none of them were for any crime of violence.

She also pointed out that Crawshaw she had not used any accelerant in starting the fire and would not have committed the arson had she not been drinking and her recklessness extended to having no regard for her own safety.

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said that he would take her guilty plea into account but it remained an appalling crime in which two men had lost their lives. “The people she killed were friends of hers. Does that make it less heinous, does it not raise the recklessness? he asked.

He said the loss to the Palmer and Lonergan families was “huge and palpable”. And while they had heard Crawshaw’s expression of remorse, he wondered was it of any benefit to them. “This is one of the most serious and heinous of crimes,” he said.

He noted the chaotic nature of Crawshaw’s life in the days prior to the fire and although she had had 11 years of counselling and support, she was now worse than when she started drinking. And the latest probation report suggested that she was at a high risk of re-offending.

He sentenced her to 15 years in jail but suspended the final five years on foot of her guilty plea, her remorse and he backdated the sentence until June 2015 when she first went into custody. He also commended Garda Phillips and Garda O’Sullivan for their courage and professionalism.