Man petrol-bombed house during bitter feud

December 14, 2022

A man who threw a flaming petrol bomb at a house returned to the scene of the crime while Gardai were carrying out their investigation.

Daniel McElwaine pleaded guilty to attempted arson when he appeared before Donegal Circuit Court.

The court heard the 53-year-old painter and decorator had been involved in a feud at the time of the incident.

Sergeant Stewart Doyle told how Gardai received a report of a fire at West Rock, Ballyshannon, at 9pm on October 30, 2020.

Upon arrival, Gardai found a glass bottle smashed on the ground and a slightly burned cloth. There were scorch marks on the building and officers detected a smell of petrol.

The bottle and the cloth were seized by Gardai.

Mr Fullerton doused the flames with a bucket of water after he and his partner, Lynda Doherty, noticed a ‘big orange light’ – the flames.

The occupants of the house named McElwaine, of Westport, Ballyshannon, and another man as being the persons they believed to be responsible.

While at the scene, Gardai noticed a white Berlingo van drive past slowly.

The van was being driven by McElwaine, who was described as being highly intoxicated. Gardai noticed that he had a fresh laceration to the middle finger on his right hand.

Sergeant Doyle said the damage to the building was superficial. “The potential was there,” he added.

Questioned by Ms Patricia McLaughlin BL, Counsel for the State, Sergeant Doyle said that there had been ‘ongoing disagreements’ between the parties, which he described as ‘tit-for-tat criminal damage’.

McElwaine, the court was told, has 22 previous convictions, including two for criminal damage, one for trespass with an offensive weapon and one for assault causing harm.

Ms Doherty, in a victim impact statement read by Ms McLaughlin, said she ‘wouldn’t dare go to bed’ after the incident. Instead, she slept downstairs and kept a bucket of water close to the letterbox.

“I lost my house and I had to move because of him,” Ms Doherty said.

“He could have killed me. If John wasn’t at the house, I wouldn’t have been quick enough to react.

“He knew it could have gone up like a torch.”

Ms Doherty said McElwaine rang her last Christmas and called her a ‘slag’.

Mr Fullerton said the incident ‘ruined my life. In a victim impact statement, he said he has been homeless and sofa-surfing since and has had to move out of Ballyshannon.

“My landlord heard about a petrol bomb, associated me with it and threw me out,” he said.

“It took years off my life. This has ruined my life.”

When arrested for the incident, McElwaine was fully co-operative, Sergeant Doyle said.

In an interview, McElwaine told Gardai that he was giving Mr Fullerton ‘a taste of his own medicine’ and admitted that he had gone ‘overboard’.

McElwaine told investigating officers that he felt ‘brutal remorse’ and admitted that his conduct was ‘ridiculous.

“He was shocked himself that he went to those lengths,” Sergeant Doyle said.

Mr Desmond Dockery SC, barrister for McElwaine, said his client had made ‘no effort to avoid detection’.

“He expressed remorse, which is considered as sincere,” Mr Dockery said.

“It was clear that he was shocked when, having sobered up, he realised the danger he put Mr Fullerton and his partner in.”

Mr Dockery said that personal culpability was high, given that his client had planned the attack.

He said: “It seems to have been conducted relatively ineptly as the weapon was simply flung at the house, striking an outside wall.”

McElwaine, his barrister said, was suffering from sleep deprivation and depression at the time.

His father died when McElwaine was seven and he lost his mother when he was 18, something that contributed to ‘deep-seeded and entrenched’ alcohol misuse.

As a gesture of remorse, McElwaine, brought €600, to be given to the owner of the property.

Judge John Aylmer adjourned the matter until Tuesday next, December 20, when he will sentence McElwaine.