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81-year-old man to be sentenced for manslaughter of daughter

O’Brien, 81, pleaded guilty to the unlawful killing of Sinead Masterson on 16 December 2021.

A MAN THREW a bucket of petrol over a stove fire to start a blaze which claimed the life of his daughter, left his wife seriously injured and destroyed the family home, Trim Circuit Court heard today.

“I said to myself I’ll either set the place on fire or hang myself. It was in me to do it and I couldn’t hold back,” Peter O’Brien later said to gardai.

O’Brien, 81, with an address at St Michael’s, Beauparc, Co Meath pleaded guilty to the unlawful killing of Sinead Masterson on 16 December 2021 and to charges of causing criminal damage with intent to endanger life and property on 19 May 2021 and assault causing harm to Maureen O’Brien on the same date.

Mother of two Sinead Masterson died from her injuries at St James hospital in Dublin seven months after the blaze.

Garda Katryn Christie told prosecuting counsel Carl Hanahoe BL that Peter and Maureen O’Brien had been living separate lives at their family home for a number of years prior to the incident.

A succession of family and friends had called with cards, flowers and balloons to the house to wish Maureen happy birthday on the day of the fire but that evening the defendant grabbed the balloons and cards and binned them.

Sinead, who lived nearby confronted the defendant and retrieved the cards which she replaced on a mantlepiece in the sitting room.

A short time later Peter O’Brien entered the room with a plastic bucket filled with petrol and threw it over the stove.

“Dad came into the room and said this will be the end of this property and threw the petrol on the stove,” Sinead Masterson told gardai.

“There were flames everywhere – he was pure angry, pure mad,” said Maureen O’Brien to gardai and recalled crawling out of the house on her hands and knees.

Mrs O Brien suffered second and third degree burns to her face, hands and knees.

The court heard the defendant dropped the bucket and encountered Sinead at a tap at the back of the house trying to douse the flames out before he drove off in his car.

Garda Christie told the court the defendant had gone for a spin around Slane before going to Navan garda station about an hour later.

He admitted setting the house on fire and also told gardai : “I didnt want the car to go up in the fire”.

In a garda interview, he claimed the marking of his wife’s birthday was to provoke him and he just “couldn’t take anymore”.

The court heard he also claimed he had suffered financial abuse from a family member but Mr Hanahoe said this claim was rejected by the prosecution.

Judge Martina Baxter was told that Sinead Masterson’s clothes had been burned off her in the blaze and she had to be taken to St James hospital in Dublin where is spite of her determination to fight her injuries and to be home for Christmas she died on 16 December 2021.

In a succession of victim impact statement members of Sinead Masterson’s family spoke of how their lives would never be the same.

Maureen O’Brien said her life had been destroyed with her daughter and her home taken from her.

She said she spoke to her daughter’s picture every night and concluded “I’ll never understand how or why it happened but it shouldn’t have happened”.

Sinead’s sister Noeleen Donoghue spoke of the empty space at family gatherings and her fear of her father.

“I hope I never see him again after the court is finalised,” she said.

Paddy O’Brien said their family life had changed forever with the death of his sister Sinead.

Edward Masterson spoke of his wife’s kindness to people and her love of music. He recalled visiting her in hospital where all he could see was her two eyes and nose because she was so bandaged.

Sinead Masterson’s daughter Laura said she thought of her loving mother every day and couldn’t think why her grandfather had done what he did.

Ciara Masterson said her life had changed while her mother was in hospital.

Defence barrister Kathleen Leader SC said her client prayed for Sinead every night and had not intended to harm her when he set the house on fire and knew he should not have done it.

She added that the defendant had suffered from some mental health issues in his later life.

“He is someone who needs urgent counselling, which he is not getting in custody,” said Leader.

Judge Baxter expressed her sympathies to the bereaved family and all who knew and loved Sinead Masterson and adjourned the case to October.

Richard McCullen