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Man jailed for setting fire to homeless hostel that left woman with catastrophic injuries

The fire at the Depaul Hostel in Dublin 7 was started by Keith Riggs (38) in March last year.

A MAN WHO set fire to a homeless hostel last year, leaving a 22-year-old woman with catastrophic injuries, has been jailed for nine and a half years.

The fire at the Depaul Hostel in Dublin 7 that was started by Keith Riggs (38) in March last year left Shauna O’Brien with catastrophic and life-limiting injuries after she fell unconscious trying to escape the blaze.

In a victim impact statement prepared on behalf of O’Brien by her parents and read to the court by Judge Dara Hayes, O’Brien said Riggs had “taken her life and her children away from her”.

The statement outlined the serious injuries O’Brien sustained in the fire last March, and how her life has been completely changed.

Riggs (38) of Deanstown Avenue, Finglas, Dublin 11, pleaded guilty to two counts of arson and one count of endangerment at the hostel on Little Green Street on 26 March 2022.

The court heard that O’Brien remains in intensive care under specialist medical teams from the Mater Hospital and from Boston.

Imposing sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court today, Judge Hayes said this was “very serious offending with substantial aggravating factors”.

He noted that four people were hospitalised following the fire, with O’Brien critically injured.

Judge Hayes said O’Brien was a “22-year-old woman with her life in front of her” last March, but her life had been irrevocably changed by the “appalling fire”.

He also noted that the impact on O’Brien’s two young children, her parents and her family.

Judge Hayes said it had cost Dublin City Council over €2 million to repair the hostel and house residents elsewhere during this period.

This was a “very large cost” to be borne by the local authority at a time when homeless figures are at record numbers, the judge said.

“Even if no one had been in the building when he [Riggs] started the fire, it still would have had a significant impact on homelessness services,” Judge Hayes said.

Judge Hayes said that Riggs’ warning to O’Brien and his 999 call demonstrated an understanding of the potential consequences of his actions.

He said while Riggs had suicidal thoughts at the time, this did not excuse his actions or him putting others in danger.

Judge Hayes said the mitigating factors include Riggs’ guilty plea and expressions of remorse. He said Riggs had a long history of mental health issues and developed psychosis in his 20s. Judge Hayes noted that Riggs is taking medication and has engaged with services while in custody.

Judge Hayes handed Riggs a total prison sentence of 11 years, with the final 18 months suspended on strict conditions. These include that Riggs place himself under the supervision of the Probation Service and engage with community mental health services upon his release from custody. Judge Hayes backdated the sentence to 27 March 2022.

Judge Hayes extended his heartfelt sympathy to members of O’Brien’s family present in court and thanked them for their dignity.

He said there was nothing the court could do to give O’Brien back the life she had before the fire, or to ease her pain.

Jessica Magee and Eimear Dodd