Tunisian man convicted of Co Armagh arson brands verdict ‘racist’

Court
Court

A Tunisian national convicted yesterday of an arson attack in which a grandmother and two youngsters were forced to flee an adjoining property described his conviction as “racist”.

Belfast Crown Court Judge Gordon Kerr QC was remanding 25-year old Montassar Ghadghadi into custody following the 11 to one jury majority when he claimed: “That’s what we call racist. How can I be guilty ... I didn’t do it.”

This is the sixth time Ghadghadi, from Clonavon Avenue in Portadown, has been before a jury for the arson attack on a house at Market Street Court in nearby Tandragee on June 9, 2013.

Although the house was empty, a grandmother who was next door babysitting her three-year-old granddaughter and 11-month-old grandson had to be evacuated.

She later revealed that because her granddaughter was too frightened to return to the family home, they “never lived there again”.

Judge Kerr, who told Ghadghadi that it was “highly likely” he would be facing jail, said he would pass sentence next month.

The jury of six men and six women had heard the damage caused to the targeted property amounted to over £60,000, while smoke damage was also caused to the adjoining house.

Following an examination, it was determined there were two seats of fire - one in the living room and one in an upstairs bedroom.

The female occupant - who rented the house from a landlord - herself a grandmother, and a mum of three, was not at home at the time, returned from a caravan break to find the house a “blackened mess”, in which she lost everything - including photographs of deceased relatives.

The 43-year-old woman, a friend of Ghadghadi’s girlfriend, claimed that four days prior to the arson he’d threatened her, which she reported to the police.

“He said he was going to come down and burn my house.”

She also claimed “there were some names he called me in his own language”.

When Ghadghadi was arrested at his girlfriend’s house later that morning, he denied setting fire to the property.

He said he had been nowhere near the house that morning, claiming he had been at his girlfriend’s house since 2am until his arrest.

However, a local resident claimed she saw Ghadghadi walking both to and from the house in Market Street Court, and that a short time later she “heard a commotion” and saw smoke.

The neighbour said that, despite not knowing his name, she recognised Ghadghadi as the boyfriend of a local girl whose friend she knew lived at the house.