Northern Ireland news

Former British soldier jailed for eight months for arson attacks

Laganside Court in Belfast

A former British soldier has been jailed for eight months for arson attacks which destroyed cars belonging to his ex-partner and her mother.

James Burns (29) set fire to two vehicles parked outside the victims' homes in Co Antrim earlier this year.

A neighbour's car was also damaged in one of the blazes.

Burns, who served in Afghanistan with the Royal Marines, received a 16-month sentence, with half to be served in custody and the remainder on licence.

Belfast Magistrates' Court heard he phoned his former partner on February 27, threatening her of the consequences if she got him sent back to prison.

Prosecutors said he told her: "I will burn you out."

Later that night, as the woman alerted police from her home in the Newtownabbey area, she looked out and saw Burns approach her Seat Ibiza.

"He paused at the rear wheel, threw something using both hands and the vehicle immediately ignited," a Crown lawyer said.

Firefighters went to the scene, but the car was completely gutted. A pram and child seat worth £1,200 which had been used by Burns'

14-month-old son were inside the car at the time.

Minutes later he arrived at the home of the ex-partner's mother in Greenisland and set her Hyundai i10 alight, with the flames spreading to another car in the neighbourhood.

Burns, of Barra Street in Antrim, admitted three counts of arson, threats to damage property, breaching a non-molestation order, and criminal damage to an electronic tag.

Defence barrister Sean Mullan told the court the offences were committed amid difficulties in his client getting to see his son.

"That caused extreme frustration and he handled it in a completely inappropriate way," counsel said.

"His actions were utterly wrong, he acknowledges that and wishes to offer his apologies."

Mr Mullan added that Burns developed mental health issues linked to his time in the Royal Marines.

"He did a tour of Afghanistan and has found it difficult to cope with life outside of the army," the barrister said.

Based on the available sentencing powers, District Judge Steven Keown imposed eight months custody and eight months on licence.

Burns was also made subject to a restraining order for the next three years. Referring to the seriousness of the case, Mr Keown commented: "I'm surprised it's not in the Crown Court."

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