A Drogheda criminal with 40 previous convictions has had his sentence reduced by the Court of Appeal for the "mysterious and even sinister" arson of a stolen car.
The court's ruling states that it also wants to "incentivize rehabilitation" for the 25-year-old by suspending part of the new sentence imposed.
Paul Crosby (25) of Rathmullen Park, Drogheda, Co Louth was under surveillance in May 2019 by members of the Emergency Response Unit, who watched as he and two others jump-started a stolen Volkswagen Polo, drove it to a field and set it on fire.
He pleaded guilty to arson and a judge at Dundalk Circuit Criminal Court sentenced him to five years imprisonment with the final six months suspended. Mr Justice Seamus Woulfe at the three-judge Court of Appeal today reduced the sentence to three years and six months with the final six months suspended.
To incentivize rehabilitation Crosby must enter a bond to be of good behaviour for 12 months after his release and remain under the supervision of the Probation Service for six months. He must also enter his own surety of €100.
At a sentence hearing in April 2020 Detective Garda Seamus Nolan told Dundalk Circuit Criminal Court that Crosby was being watched by the Emergency Response Unit when, on May 10th, 2019, he was seen with two other men trying to jump-start the stolen car at an industrial estate in Drogheda. The car had been reported stolen from Dublin and had been fitted with stolen plates and tax and insurance discs.
When the three men got the car started they drove to a field in the Yellowbatter area of the town. The two other men, driving a BMW, left and returned with a can of petrol. One of them, not Crosby, doused the car and set it on fire. The Volkswagen, which was said to have been worth €10,000, was a write-off.
Penalty for arson
Crosby's lawyers appealed the severity of his sentence earlier this year, saying the seven-year headline set by the judge was too severe.
Lily Buckley BL for Crosby said the main concern in arson cases is the danger posed to others when fires get out of control. That did not feature in this case, she said, as the car was set on fire in a field away from buildings and people.
She also argued that her client's early guilty plea was particularly helpful given that his trial would have been delayed indefinitely as the courts were not holding jury trials during lockdown.
In his judgement Mr Justice Woulfe said the headline sentence of seven years was, "excessively high and outside the permissible range having regard to all the facts."
While the maximum penalty for arson is life imprisonment, the judge said this case did not fall into the highest end of the mid-range, where it appeared to have been placed by the sentencing judge. Mr Justice Woulfe said the circumstances of the offence were "mysterious and even sinister" but the reduced danger to the public resulting from the location of the arson put it at a lower level than other arson cases.
Allowing the appeal against severity of sentence, Mr Justice Woulfe quashed the original sentence and replaced it with one of three years and six months with the final six months suspended.
At the initial appeal hearing the court heard that Crosby has 40 previous convictions: 31 for road traffic offences, four for theft, three for drug-related offences and two for criminal damage.
He was also acquitted of attempted murder following a trial in February 2019. He had been accused of the attempted murder of Gerard Boyle at Knockcommon, Beauparc, Slane, on November 10th, 2016.
Mr Boyle was stabbed 28 times and forced into the boot of a car that was then pushed into a canal. He escaped from the car and swam to the canal bank where a passing taxi driver called the emergency services.
Crosby denied any involvement and a Central Criminal Court jury took just 43 minutes to find him not guilty of attempted murder.