Northern Ireland news

Man (33) who started fire in former Belfast Telegraph building jailed for 11 months

A fire at the former Belfast Telegraph building caused hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage. Picture by Mal McCann

A 33-year-old man who broke into the former Belfast Telegraph building and caused hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage after starting a fire has been jailed for 11 months.

Christian Stefan Topiter, who is originally from Romania and was effectively homeless at the time, was told by Judge Patricia Smyth that "very significant damage was caused by you and suffered by the owners of that building".

Topiter, from Parkmore in Craigavon, pleaded guilty to charges of burglary and arson following his arrest at a immigration detention centre in Glasgow where he was awaiting deportation.

Judge Smyth heard that on February 21 2018, he had "sneaked into" the historic four-storey building on Belfast's Royal Avenue when workers had left for the evening.

Prosecution lawyer Philip Henry told Belfast Crown Court that once inside Topiter "secreted himself in the ceiling'' on the first floor and for around four hours, CCTV footage recorded him "roaming around the building wearing a back pack".

He paid particular attention to a first floor technology hub owned by Digital Catapult Ltd and was seen "filling his back pack with electronic items".

Also captured on CCTV was Topiter starting a fire with combustables at around 9.30pm.

The prosecutor said that around 11pm, he smashed a window and cut himself when leaving, with DNA recovered matching his.

Firefighters were alerted to the blaze at around 3.30am.

Extensive damage was caused to the building - which is currently owned by Belfast City Council - with the most recent assessment amounting to around £279,000.

A further £51,000 worth of damage was caused to Digital Catapult.

A barrister acting for Topiter said he had consumed alcohol and had taken prescription medication which resulted in no recollection of what he did.

Judge Smyth noted that at the time Topiter was homeless after the breakdown of a relationship and was drinking. He also had an "unstable upbringing and difficult childhood" in Romania.

She told him: "I have received a letter from the prison which tells me you have used your time in custody constructively."

As well as the jail term, he will spend a further 11 months on supervised licence after his release.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news

Today's horoscope


See a different horoscope: