Appeal over Co Armagh arson attack thrown out

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A man jailed for an arson attack which forced a grandmother and two children to flee from an adjoining house has failed in a bid to overturn his conviction.

The Court of Appeal rejected claims that the guilty verdict returned against Montassar Ghadghadi for setting fire to an empty property in Tandragree, Co Armagh in June 2013 was unsafe.

Ghadghadi, a 26-year-old Tunisian national from Clonavon Avenue in Portadown, is serving a five-year sentence over the attack on a house rented by a friend of his girlfriend at the time.

She was not at home when the early morning blaze broke out, causing damage estimated in excess of £60,000.

The woman returned from a caravan break to discover the house on Market Street Court completely gutted.

Her next-door neighbour had to be evacuated along with a three-year-old granddaughter and 11-month-old grandson.

Ghadghadi denied setting fire to the woman’s property during a jury trial at Belfast Crown Court earlier this year.

The woman whose home was set on fire claimed that just days before the arson he had threatened her that he was going to come and burn down the house.

Ghadghadi’s legal team appealed the conviction, arguing that the trial judge wrongly failed to discharge the jury after the woman made further prejudicial allegations about being assaulted in a shopping mall.

But senior judges in Belfast held there had been a strong circumstantial case against him.

It involved a witness account of a man at the scene matching his description, and a photograph of a person wearing clothes matching his.

Ghadghadi was also picked out at a video identification procedure.

Lord Justice Weatherup, sitting with Lord Justices Gillen and Weir, pointed out that animosity between the defendant and the woman would have been apparent to the jury.

“In all the circumstances we conclude that the impact of the material and the potential prejudice to the appellant were limited,” he said.

“We are satisfied that the trial judge was correct to refuse the application to discharge the jury.”

Dismissing the appeal, he confirmed: “We do not believe that the verdict is unsafe.”