(CNS): A Grand Court judge found a local woman from North Side not guilty of three arson-related charges because of mental health challenges that impaired her ability to understand or even remember her crimes. The 57-year-old woman was accused of setting fire to her own home in the district more than three years ago but the case has dragged through the courts because of a catalogue of issues and questions surrounding the woman’s fitness to answer the charges or stand trial.
At the time of her arrest the former civil servant had admitted setting the fires, but she believed that her house was evil because she was hearing voices through her air-conditioning system and ceiling fans. The woman also said she believed her estranged husband was trying to kill her.
Once in custody and on remand, the woman began receiving treatment for her mental health issues, which, according to evidence given by government psychiatrist Dr Marc Lockhart, were quite severe. Since then however, she has improved and was eventually bailed into the care of a family member.
A collection of psychiatric and social reports over the last three years all concluded that she was so impaired at the time she did not know what she was doing and that she would have trouble remembering what happened.
Dr Lockhart had also noted that it would serve no purpose to prosecute the woman, who had pleaded guilty and then not guilty, because of her mental health issues. He had described her fire-starting as automatising and involuntary. Commenting on the fact that she had a history of mental health and emotional problems, Dr Lockhart pointed to the importance of treatment over punishment.
Having conduct of the case, which dragged on for over three years, Justice Charles Quin agreed with the findings of the mental health experts and acquitted the woman, who has no previous criminal history, on the basis that she was suffering at the time from a serious mental illness and that she was insane.
Setting strict guidelines for the woman’s treatment and support, the judge described it as a special case in which she did not know what she was doing at the time and was not able to properly participate in her own defence had she gone to trial.
However, Justice Quin said that her treatment was paramount, and set out various conditions based on the recommendations of Dr Lockhart and other relevant agencies.