Arsonist started a fire at local flats complex

editorial image

An arsonist thought it would be “funny” to start a fire at a four-storey flats complex in Coleraine and when his lawyer said there was little chance of it spreading, a judge said: “Tell that to the people in Grenfell”.

The reference by District Judge Liam McNally at Coleraine Magistrate’s Court on Monday regarding the London tower block inferno came as Reece Louden (22) of Church Street, Portstewart, was jailed for four months for arson.

The restaurant worker previously pleaded guilty to damaging a letterbox belonging to ‘Radius Housing’ at Weaver’s Court, in Coleraine.

A resident heard an alarm and put the flames out at 6am on Saturday February 18 this year.

A prosecutor said two men were seen running away and getting in to a vehicle and £500 worth of damage was caused to a letterbox.

The prosecutor said scorch damage was caused and no one was injured after a fire alarm sounded.

The court heard Louden told police he was drunk and thought it would be “funny” to pretend to set fire to the door and he panicked when the letterbox ignited.

Defence solicitor Brendan McLernon said his client used a lighter in a “foolish reckless act” and when sober he made a full admission.

He said Louden was off drink for six months but was on a binge and had gone with two others to a “drinking flat” and after knocking on the door was told by the occupants to go home.

Mr McLernon said it was not a case of people sleeping when he set fire to the door which he didn’t believe would take hold but when it created a “good deal of smoke” he “panicked” but punched a fire alarm to set off an alarm and ran off.

The solicitor said there was little chance of the fire spreading but Judge McNally said: “Tell that to the people in Grenfell”.

Mr McLernon replied: “I certainly don’t want this coloured by the London tragedy, it is an entirely different scale”.

The solicitor said it would have been very difficult to become an active fire as Louden had not used any accelerants or rags or papers.

“There was no premeditation, it was stupidity of the highest order” rather than someone who set out to “cause harm to people and damage their property”.

Mr McLernon said his client had previous offences and at one stage had gone off to live in a Scottish island “to keep himself out of trouble” but returned home.

Judge McNally said fortunately the flames were put out by an alert neighbour.

He told Louden: “You shouldn’t play with fire because you never know what will happen”.

The defendant was jailed for four months but released on his own bail of £500 pending appea