Man who threw petrol bomb at house during feud jailed for 18 months

March 15, 2023

A man who threw a flaming petrol bomb at a house during a ‘tit for tat’ feud has been jailed for 18 months.

Daniel McElwaine, a 53-year-old painter and decorator, had pleaded guilty to carrying out the attack at West Rock, Ballyshannon, at 9pm on October 30, 2020.

Donegal Circuit Court, sitting at Letterkenny Courthouse, heard how 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 and Gardai seized both the bottle and cloth as evidence.

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

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 but added “The potential was there.”

Sergeant Doyle had previously told Ms Patricia McLaughlin BL, Counsel for the State, 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 €650, to be given to the owner of the property.

Passing sentence at yesterday’s sitting of the court, Judge Aylmer said this was an “extremely dangerous act” and one which merited a sentence of five years before mitigation was considered.

That mitigation included an early guilty plea, his remorse and that he has sobered up.

A probation report on the accused showed that he had a moderate risk of reoffending.

Taking all these factors into account, Judge Aylmer said he proposed to reduce that sentence to three and a half years.

He added that he also must consider if he might suspend all or part of this sentence but said he took the view that the offence was simply too serious to suspend in its entirety.

Instead, he suspended that final two years meaning McElwaine will serve a sentence of 18 months in prison.

The Judge also ordered the accused the engage with the local mental services and to keep the probation services informed of all engagement during the two years of the suspended sentence.

He also ordered McElwaine to abstain from alcohol completely during the two years once released from prison.