Man who torched estranged wife's home escapes jail after agreeing to pay for damage

Francis McCall

A 35 year-old father-of-three who set fire to the home of his estranged wife, escaped jail today after his sentence was suspended.

Belfast Crown Court heard that Francis McCall, who has agreed to compensate the Housing Executive for the damage, started the blaze in an apparent "sad and desperate attempt" of getting back with her.

Suspending his year long sentence for two years, Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland said he was taking the "extraordinary lenient approach" because McCall, who has already paid £1,000 up front, has agreed to pay for the rest of the damage at £200 per month.

Judge McFarland told McCall, of Altan Grove in Dunmurry, what he did was "an act of stupidity" in which the lives of his wife's neighbours and firefighters alike could have been placed in danger.

His trial last month, at which he denied arson and being reckless as to whether life would be endangered, heard that £16,500 was spent refurbishing his wife's Grosvenor Court home in Belfast following the blaze on January 24 last year.

"Your motivation was to stablise the relationship that you had", and in setting fire to the house, also hoped of getting his wife and young children further up the housing ladder and a bigger home, said Judge McFarland.

He also told McCall, while it was clear from the evidence he had deliberately set three seats on fire in the kitchen of the house, he still "continued to maintain your innocence to the jury".

However, it took the jury just an hour and 40 minutes to unanimously convict McCall of torching the house while pretending he had gone back to retrieve his mobile phone, and later blaming the blaze on two unidentified men.

Following his conviction, Judge David McFarland freed McCall on continuing bail and while he said it should not be taken as an indication on how he would deal with him, he added he "would like to see some reimbursement which will have a major impact on the disposal of the case".

During the trial it also emerged, whatever McCall's motivation, his former wife and children no longer live in the home she just "loved", after the Housing Executive deemed the family were intentionally homeless by refusing to go into a hostel.

It is understood that she and her three children now reside in private rented accommodation.

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