Teen charged with arson attack on car showroom

The courthouse at Bishop Street, Derry.

The courthouse at Bishop Street, Derry.

A district judge has asked for greater detail to be brought to a rehabilitation plan for a teenager charged with causing over £200,000 worth of damage in an arson attack on Bob Mullan Motors’ showrooms in Ballykelly in February.

The 17-year-old who can’t be named due to his age, appeared at Derry Youth Court, charged with arson, burglary and attempted criminal damage.

A Public Prosecution Service solicitor explained how, on Sunday, February 7, the PSNI received a report of a male wearing a black hoodie, acting suspiciously near the site of the blaze at the Loughermore Road car show room.

Police went to temporary accommodation in Ballykelly where the boy had been staying and identified the defendant, the court heard.

During interview he told officers he had gone to Loughermore Road and went into the building with the intention of stealing.

He then told police that on finding nothing to steal he had set a cushion on fire and applied it to other furniture, causing the fire, the court heard.

The PPS said the blaze caused between £200,000 and £300,000 worth of criminal damage.

A defending solicitor “acknowledged that it was an exceptionally serious offence” and at the “top end of the Youth Court spectrum.”

But he said there were “a number of significant mitigating factors” and that the boy had spent February 8 to April 18 in custody, “a salutary experience” for him.

The court heard how the boy was bailed in April and has adhered to stringent conditions.

He had moved into independent accommodation and was “thriving there.”

District Judge Harry McKibbin, however, expressed his concern: “The fascination with fire is what worries me.”

The defence accepted this but suggested fears for public safety had not been realised during his five months on bail and that the punitive element of any sentence may already have been dealt with by his period in custody.

He suggested to the court that a tailored youth conference plan might now be the most appropriate way of rehabilitating the defendant.

The defence also pointed out how the injured party Bob Mullan did not have any “ill-feeling towards the defendant.”

Judge McKibbin said: “We have to protect the public. What about this fascination with fire?”

The defendant’s social worker said the boy had attended three two-hour firestarting awareness sessions with the fire service: a condition for his getting into supported accommodation.

A Youth Justice Agency representative said they had just commenced working with the boy and believed an Emotional Needs Assessment was needed.

District Judge McKibbin said: “It’s not a straightforward case. Obviously it’s a very serious matter.”

TheJudge said he wanted further clarity on the defendant’s youth conference plan with regard to the proposal that he “engage with appropriate therapeutic interventions” and in “educational training.”

“I’m not sure what some of that means.”

District Judge McKibbin adjourned the case until October 4th to allow for the additional detail required.