Woman’s arson attack on family home led to father-of-two’s tragic suicide

A WOMAN was out of her mind on drink and prescribed drugs when she burned down a young couple’s family home to the ground. The house, which would cost over E300,000 to replace, was not insured at the time.

A WOMAN was out of her mind on drink and prescribed drugs when she burned down a young couple’s family home to the ground. The house, which would cost over E300,000 to replace, was not insured at the time.

The actions of Mrs Roseanne McEnery, Vines Grove, Kells, County Kilkenny led directly to the father of two small children, Brendan Delahunty taking his own life four months later in the only part of the structure still standing, the stables. In a suicide note he left after hanging himself, he said he could not sleep because every time he closed his eyes he saw the flames of the fire in the house.

Mrs McEnery, who runs a stud and riding stables at Vines Grove, Kells with her husband Paul is on free legal aid and it was said on her behalf that she would be able to come up with E100,000 euro in compensation to show her remorse and attrition through borrowings from family members, which led to heckling from the body of the court. It emerged that the accused was commited to a mental hospital three days after the fire and after completing her interviews with gardai.

The court also heard that she was arrested on suspicion of drink driving a mile from the scene a few hours later as gardai managed traffic diversions caused by the fire that she had earlier set.

She was later convicted of drink driving near the scene of the blaze which completely destroyed the six-bedroomed home of Michelle and Brendan Delahunty. Before the offer of compensation was made, the court heard from the prosecution that there was legal precedent for not allowing rich people to get out of going to jail by paying compensation although it was also stated that this might not be the case in this instance. The most distressing part of the trial came when Mrs Michelle Delahunty’s harrowing victim impact statement was read in open court, at her request by prosecuting counsel, Brian O’ Shea. At the end she said: “My home meant the world to me and my husband meant the world to me. The impact is very difficult to measure on a tangible level, it is the loneliness and the fear that comes with every night, it is the massive loss to my children of their father and their home, both of which can never be replaced.”

The court was deathly silent after the statment was read out. Michelle Delahunty maintained a dignified silence as she sat in the body of the court surrounded by her family, a large circle of friends including her former school friends from the Loreto Secondary School in Kilkenny. Her husband’s family were also by her side for the entire duration of the case.

When the accused later got into the witness box, after wrangling about whether she should or not, most of these people left as she began to speak.

Testimony

Although Mrs McEnery admitted in the second interview with gardai at Thomastown Garda Station in the days after the event, to her part in the fire, the prosecution team made it clear they had found a lighter at the scene which matched Mrs McEnery’s DNA profile.

It was alleged that unspecific threats had been made by someone against Mrs McEnery’s husband and son but these were never referred to in the course of the hearing and it was also alleged that she had checked there was no one in the house before she burned it down. At the start of the case, photographs were submitted to show the devastation of the house. What was left has been demolished.

The defendant was interviewed on five different occasions after being arrested on April 2, the day after the fire on April 1. Garda Edel Fitzgerald said that gardai who were redirecting traffic around the area of the fire got the smell of alcohol from Mrs McEnery’s breath in the car when she was stopped close to the scene of the fire, about a mile away, according to Gda Fitzgerald at around 7pm or 8pm on the day of the fire. She has since been convicted of drink driving and again she pleaded guilty in that case.

In the course of the second interview, the defendant claimed the arson attack was for alleged threats made against her husband and son. In the third interview, after been shown the photographs of the charred remains of the house, she said she regretted what she had done.

In the fourth interview, the defendant said the attack was out of hatred for someone who had made alleged threats against her husband and family. Defending barrister, Mr Michael O’ Higgins said that the defendant was high on alcohol and prescribed drugs complemented with depression.

Counsel for the prosecution, Mr Brian O’Shea, instructed by State solicitor, Gerard Meaney said that the house was the family home of the Delahunty family.

He said that Mrs Michelle Delahunty had made a victim impact statement and had asked that it be read out in court.

The court was then told that it would cost E303,000 to rebuild the house. Mr O’ Shea pointed out that a lighter had been found at the scene, in one of the bedrooms and that a DNA sample matched the accused’s profile.

Defending counsel, Mr Michael O’ Higgins said the accused was 46 years of age and lived at Vines Grove where she ran a small stud and riding school with her husband. He said she had a son in his early 20s, that her father had recently passed away from cancer and her mother was still alive and that she had a brother, Matt, living in Croatia, a sister living at home and another sister, Dr Martine Millett-Johnson living in Kilkenny.

Prosecuting counsel, Mr O’Shea pointed out that the house was uninsured at the time of the fire.

Garda Fitzgerald, under cross-examination by Mr O’Shea said that the accused had admitted taking vodka and anti-depressants before the arson attack and that she broke down in tears at a later stage in questioning and not at the start when she denied being at the scene or having anything to do with the fire.

Garda Fitzgerald agreed that at one stage during questioning, the accused suffered from confusion and made significant admissions on setting fire to the sheeting in the bedroom.

“And she checked there was no in the house first,” added the defence counsel. Mr O’Shea and Garda Fitzgerald said that was what the accused had claimed. “She walked through the whole place,” Mr O’Shea said.

It then emerged that she threw several rocks through a number of windows at the back of the house before entering.

Mr O’Higgins said that the fire caught hold but that the accused claimed she never intended to burn down the whole house. Gda Fitzgerald said Mrs McEnery admitted what she had done after being shown photos of the extent of the damage.

Mr O’Higgins said his client had been very upset at that time because her father was going through a serious illness.

Mr O’Higgins then suggested that there had been tension and hostility in the area after the arson attack. Gda Fitzgerald did not agree and said there was anger and upset over what had happened. Mr O’Higgins then said that the victim in the case was Michelle Delahunty who had lost her husband and her family home.

Gda Fitzgerald agreed that the accused had an unblemished record before the day of the fire. Mr O’Higgins then said he was mindful of an offer to provide compensation was communicated to the deceased’s family.

He said that the accused had written a letter of apology. Gda Fitzgerald, still in the witness box said she nothing about it and it later emerged that it had been written two weeks before the day of the case.

“I was made aware of it now just before the case came up but I don’t know who it was for,” Gda Fitzgerald added.

The defence counsel said that were reports from a number of mental health professionals and a number of testimonials on behalf of the accused, including ones from counsellor William Egan; Teagasc equine course director at Kildalton College, Piltown, Rosemary Gaffney, the accused’s sister Martine who outlined that the accused had the backing of her family. And Judge Alice Doyle drew attention to a testimonial from a Dominican priest, a Fr Kelly.

Defending counsel, Mr O’Higgins said his client was born on October 13, 1966 in Clonmel. The family later moved to Kilkenny and from an early age she was involved with horses, competing in dressage and show jumping. He said her chosen career was horses and that she and her husband Paul set up a small stud at Vines Grove, Kells and a riding school that was very popular. He said that she also taught handicapped and autistic children to horse ride. He said that she had competed in dressage internationally and had been successful. Then it emerged that this part of the defence was written by her sister Martine as part of her testimonial.

The defence counsel said that she was extremely close to her son. He then said there was no justification for what he had client had done. He said that she had an alcohol dependency problem which started in 2009-2010 and that she started drinking secretly in the morning. She had blanked out and had become withdrawn, Mr O’Higgins said. He said this had crystallised in one crisis point after her son left home to make his own way in life and went to college and this he said, had caused her, to go into dip. He said this was not a defence for what she did but he was putting her actions in context.

He mentioned that she had been attending two counsellors, William Egan and Ann Nolan and that Ann Nolan has said had engaged in the process and that it was substantial, willing and ongoing.

He said Rosemary Gaffney had a long association with the accused and that the accused had worked with students on the equine course at Grennan College, Thomastown and had been a reliable coach and that at Vines Grove, along with her husband she had taught young people to horse ride and helped them to develop.

He said that he had been instructed by his client to say she had not intended to burn down the house but accepted her actions in setting the fire. He claimed that she had shown immediate remorse and that it had been heart-felt and genuine.

He said a substantial offer of compensation had been made to mark her attrition and remorse and he asked that Mrs Delahunty put a figure on it. The prosecuting counsel immediately rose to his feet and said there was no onus on the injured party to put a figure on it.

The defence said that the accused and Mrs Delahunty’s family lived in a small community and that the accused had to live with the implications of her actions for the rest of her life and that she lives not terribly far from the Delahunty’s home and that the implication of her actions will continue for her. He asked Judge Doyle to structure the penalty in a way that gives his client an opportunity show her genuine remorse and attrition. He wondered about the usefulness of a custodial sentence and asked if the judge wanted the accused to take the stand, Judge Doyle asked what Mrs Delahunty thought of that and it came back that she had no particular view and was taking a neutral stance.

At this stage Mr O’Higgins quoted from a criminal text book which said that rich offenders should not be able to buy their way out of prison, adding: “I’m not saying it is the case here.”

Judge Doyle said she felt it was appropriate that the accused got into the box. Wearing a blue blazer with a gold crest, the accused apologised for her actions and said that she was out of her head when she set fire to the house. “If I could turn the clock back I would,” she said.

In her summing up, Judge Alice Doyle said In her summing up, Judge Olive Doyle said that the accused, Roseanne McEnery (nee Millett) would live in her own hell after what she had done.

While out of her mind on drink and prescribed drugs. She smashed the windows of the six bedroomed house property of Brendan and Michelle Delahunty. She went in and she walked through the house to check there was no in the house and set fire to the bed clothes and as a result the property was set on fire and the whole property completely destroyed.

She was arrested on the same day and interviewed on five separate occasions. In the first instance she denied being at the house at all and was arrested for drink driving a mile or so from the house at around 7 or 8pm or some time later. By the second interview, she had made certain admissions she said she said it was revenge against alleged threats against her husband and her son. (This was never elaborated upon in court and never mentioned by any of the parties involved.) She did it after someone had allegedly threatened her husband and family and that she regretted her actions and said she did out of bring on prescribed drugs and drink.

She noted that the DNA profile taken from the cigarette lighter found in the burned out house in a downstairs bedroom matched that of the accused.

Judge Doyle said that on a number of occasions the accused said she was on medication and had taken vodka and had been on medication for a while for depression. The judge said Mrs McEnery had broke down in tears and suffered some degree of confusion and that she had checked there was no one present in the house prior to setting fire to it after throwing several rocks through the back window.

She said that she did not intend to set fire to the house and expressed surprise at the extent of the damage. She referred to her father being ill and being diagnosed with cancer and that he had subsequently died. The judge said there was considerable ill feeling locally in which both parties reside. She said that Mrs Delahunty was the victim in this.

“She has lost her husband and her home. This is an extremely sad case. According to the note left by Mrs Delahunty’s husband, as a result of the fire, he committed suicide. Because in the suicide note, he said that he every time he closed his eyes all he could see were the flames,” Judge Doyle said.

The judge said the accused had accepted responsibility when it was put to her in the course of the interviews. “I have read carefully the testimonials and also the medical reports from Dr Terence Larkin, the psychiatrist Mr William Egan. counsellor, Rosemary Gaffney and I note that the accused was going through a very hard time; she was addicted to alcohol and anti-depressants and had a very serious depressive condition and was admitted to hospital on April 4, 2011 and had been attending her GP for a long period of time in relation to alcohol from 2010 and in relation to her other mental health issues prior to that,” the judge said.

Judge Doyle noted that the accused had attended with Dr Larkin and has remained off alcohol and has an insight into her addiction and that she has made substantial progress. And that is to her benefit,” she said.

“This is an extremely serious charge and coupled with all the surroundings, matters taken into account, the accused had an unblemished record until this date, she has a strong work record and she worked in the local community and made an admission at a very early opportunity and I am asked to take into account that she never intended to burn down the house. I don’t accept it.

“This was a premeditated setting fire of a house. She walked through the house, she made sure there was no one in it, and she set fire to it. It was premeditated so the mitigating factor is slight because once she set one part of the house alight it was all going to go on fire. She was immediately remorseful. She got into the box here and apologised and gave a heart -felt apology and indicated her remorse to the court,” Judge Doyle said.

“No doubt this woman will live in her own hell in the future and there is no doubt about that. The consequences of this fire are so big. As a sign of her remorse she is willing to hand over E100,000 and I expect that it will help her remorse and contrition. This is a serious crime and cannot, taking all matters into account, avoid a custodial sentence.

“I accept it was entirely out of character and I take into account that she has to live with this for the rest of the days and accept her father’s illness and that she was remorseful and had an addiction was likely to be main contributory factor in this. I also take into account the time and resources of State, gardai in court that have been saved because of her plea. I am urged to accept that she did build a case against herself without which the prosecution could not proceed. The apology was sincerely given but I have to take into account that a lighter was found at the scene which bore her DNA on it.”

The judge paused, and you could hear a pin drop in the court room.

“When it comes to imposing a sentence, the court finds that six years is the appropriate sentence that is not taking into account the aggravating factors,” said the judge.

“The early plea, the time it was given at, on the day after the fire and taking this into account solely brings it down to four years. After that if I take all the other matters into account it brings it down to two years.

“I have to take into account that this woman was of clean character and with no previous convictions prior to this day and that she had difficulties which she is addressing and to give her some light at the end of the tunnel, I am suspending one year, the final year firstly to give her hope, to keep her on the right road but also to let her know that it is essential for three years so that if she does not remain sober only taking prescription drugs in the form prescribed by her GP or if she puts a foot out of place she will serve the full period of detention. And a sum of E100,000 to be paid to Mrs Delahunty within two months through her solicitors, Coonan Cawley Solrs

Michelle Delahunty’s victim impact statement

The following is the victim impact statement read out at the trial of Roseanne McEnery by Mrs Michelle Delahunty. On the 1st of April my home was burned down in an arson attack. From that day on the path of my life, my husband’s life and our two children’s lives changed unimaginably. As I look back on the event and the way our lives have unravelled it is with a great mixture of anger, sadness, hurt and loss. For me the biggest being loss.

The arson attack had left us without our family home, a home that had only been built in 2008, a home that so much money, time effort and absolute dedication was given. Being able to plan and design our home which we assumed we would grow old in, see our children grow up in and eventually leave to them to live out their own lives, was literally destroyed right before our eyes in a blaze so fierce as we stood there helpless to do anything. This act against my family had a particularly hard effect on my husband Brendan, who’s pride, love and devotion in building this home for us was deliberately targeted.

From that day, I lost my husband, everything I knew and loved in him faded. So much so that I lost my relationship with my husband as his behaviour spiralled into a dark place in his inability to cope and for the second time in as little as 4 months, something else happened, something nobody could have ever imagined, and the most devastating of all, that on the 29th of July 2011 my husband Brendan took his own life. His chosen location for this was at our family dwelling place, at the only remaining standing structure, our stables. Writing in his suicide note that every time he closed his eyes all he could see was the fire. So now not only am I left without my home, also my husband and my children without their father.

All of our personal belongings and sentimental mementoes which were collected over many years as well as my own late mother’s belongings which I had carefully chosen to have close to me in my new home, gone never to be replaced.

My own life so far has been an uphill struggle to simply just stay sane, for myself to be well, to keep myself together for my children, to keep up my job so as to be well, to keep myself together for my children, to keep up my everyday with them hoping to God that they will have their own memories of times with him and not just the stories I tell them.

I am now left trying to rebuild mine and my children’s lives somewhere that I do not want to be because my home is not there anymore. Her (Roseanne McEnery) actions have caused me and the children to lose so much more than just a house. My home meant the world to me and my husband meant the world to me.

The impact is very difficult to measure on a tangible level, it is the loneliness and the fear that comes with every night, it is the massive loss to my children of their father and their home, both of which can never be replaced.