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Man who accidentally set fire to Louis Copeland store jailed for 2.5 years

The court heard that the homeless man was “lucky to be alive” after the incident.

Image: Shutterstock/noel bennett

A HOMELESS DRUG addict who accidentally set fire to a Louis Copeland store, causing nearly €400,000 in damage, has been jailed for two and a half years.

Vaidas Pilibaitis, 46, entered the stockroom of the designer menswear store on Pembroke Street, Dublin in July 2018 and recklessly started a fire while smoking either heroin or a cigarette, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard today.

He suffered smoke inhalation and badly injured his arm while breaking a window to escape the blaze, which started on a cardboard box of shirts, Detective Garda Niall O’Reilly told the court.

Pilibaitis was caught after he left his rucksack and his mobile at the scene and was seen on CCTV footage, the court heard. He later told gardaí he had no memory of the event.

Pilibaitis, with an address at Carman’s Hall, Dublin 8, pleaded guilty to one count of criminal damage at the shop on 8 July, 2018.

Handing down sentence, Judge Martin Nolan accepted that Pilibaitis had not intentionally set fire to the shop, but had done so “by his reckless behaviour”.

“He could have been incinerated or smothered by smoke,” the judge said. He handed down a sentence of two and a half years, noting that it would have been double that if the criminal damage had been intentional.

The court heard that Adrian Copeland, a director of the company, was alerted to an alarm at the Pembroke St. store on the night in question.

When he arrived, the fire brigade was extinguishing the blaze. The court heard the stockroom was at the back of the shop and could be accessed by a rear laneway door. The stockroom window was broken and there was blood on the wall.

While clearing through debris in the stockroom, Copeland heard a mobile ringing, and discovered Pilibaitis’s rucksack with his phone inside.

Pilibaitis was later tracked down by gardaí in hospital where he underwent surgery to his arm. He told gardaí he had no memory of the events of that night.

Detetive Garda O’Reilly said gardaí believed Pilibaitis entered the stockroom to seek shelter for the night and that he set fire to the cardboard box while smoking a cigarette or heroin.

He then couldn’t see his way out due to the smoke and smashed the window to exit the shop. “He’s lucky to be alive,” Det Gda O’Reilly told the court. “Very lucky.”

In a victim impact statement handed in to court, Copeland said the fire caused smoke damage to €390,000 worth of stock.

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The stockroom had to be repainted and a number of damaged props had to be replaced at a cost of nearly €4500.

The store had to be closed for about a week while the damage was being repaired, with a further loss to the business.

Seamus Clarke SC, defending, said his client was suffering from a drug addiction and living in homeless accommodation at the time, but has been off heroin for about a year now.

The court heard Pilibaitis, who is originally from Lithuania, has 24 previous convictions.

Pilibaitis also pleaded guilty to one count of violent disorder on Dame Street, Dublin, on 15 October, 2018. He will be sentenced for that offence on 12 February.

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Isabel Hayes

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