Mary Anne Leahy (60), who caused extensive damage to the property, was told during a sentencing hearing before the Superior Number of the Royal Court yesterday that arson posed a very grave threat to property and lives and carried hefty prison sentences in the UK.
The prosecution had asked for a four-year sentence, while her defence team had sought a two-year suspended term combined with a series of support measures to allow her to settle back into the community.
The court, however, sentenced her to two and a half years in prison.
Having heard from the Probation Department that Leahy, who appeared for sentencing from custody via video link, was ‘not ready’ for release and might struggle coping in the community, Deputy Bailiff Robert MacRae said he was also concerned that if Leahy were released, she might take the view that her actions had been vindicated.
The prosecution told the Royal Court that on 8 January Leahy had ‘trashed her rented flat’ on the outskirts of town, smashed her sink with a hammer, daubed messages on her walls and in the communal hallways and lit a series of small fires in her various rooms.
She then packed her bags, closed the front door and turned herself in to the States police, telling them to send firefighters to the property.
According to the arresting officer, the court heard, she was in a heightened state and told him: ‘It’s amazing the lengths people have to go to get attention in this Island.’ She had no regrets, the court was told, and said that if she was released on bail she would set fire to wherever she was sent.
When firefighters attended her flat there were two small fires which they quickly extinguished, and evidence of a number of others which had burned out.
According to Advocate Lucy Marks, defending, her client never had any intention of hurting anyone. The lawyer said that Leahy had only started the fires when she believed there was no one else in the building, had closed the doors and windows to her flat to starve the fires of oxygen and had not used an accelerant to encourage a blaze to take hold.
Advocate Marks said: ‘It is an absence of the right support that has led to her crime.’
She added: ‘She wants help. She has been asking for it for years.’
The court was also told that Leahy – who had no previous convictions – saw arson as a last-ditch effort that would get her the support she had desperately sought for so long. A previous plea for help had gone unanswered, the court heard, because she had not been diagnosed with any mental-health issues.
But more recent tests had shown her to be on the autistic spectrum and in need of support. It was with reluctance the court said that, at the moment, La Moye was the best place for her to get that help.
The defendant admitted one count of malicious damage and another of arson. The court issued sentences of one month and two and a half years respectively, to be served concurrently.
Because of Covid-19 restrictions, the Superior Number can currently sit with just three Jurats.
The Deputy Bailiff heard the case alongside Jurats Anthony Olsen, Steven Austin-Vautier and Rozanne Thomas.