Man who started blaze which destroyed historic Catholic church jailed

Ryan Haggerty was sentenced to five years in prison following the blaze at St Simon's church in Glasgow.

Ryan Haggerty jailed for starting blaze which destroyed St Simon’s Catholic church in Glasgow @brunsmoore

A man who started a huge fire which wrecked a historic church in Glasgow has been jailed for five years and three months.

Ryan Haggerty, 26, sparked the inferno at St Simon’s in Partick on July 28 2021, with an adjoining house where an elderly nun lived also badly damaged.

Soot-covered Haggerty was then spotted nearby and told a group of people: “Don’t grass me in.”

A judge heard how it would take “several millions” of pounds to possibly restore the nineteenth-century building, which is the third-oldest Catholic church in the city.

Haggerty pled guilty to a charge of wilful fire-raising at the High Court in Glasgow on Friday.

It emerged he already had a previous conviction for the same crime.

Judge Lord Mulholland told him: “The church you set fire to was clearly an integral place of worship for people who needed it most.

“If it is able to be re-built it would cost millions.

“You put the life of a 79-year-old nun who was sleeping there at risk and it is fortunate you are not facing the crime of murder.

“You are no stranger to wilful fire raising but this conduct is a serious escalation.

“I consider that an extended sentence is appropriate.”

Haggerty will be put under supervision for five years upon his release from prison.

The court heard Haggerty lived in homeless accommodation close to St Simon’s at the time.

A string of 999 calls were made around 2.30am that morning after it was spotted the popular church – built in 1858 – was alight.

Investigators believed it was sparked in the main chapel area with no evidence of any accelerant being used.

Sister Mary Ross, 79, lived in the presbytery next door and was awoken by the blaze.

She managed to escape and was helped by fire crews, but collapsed at one stage on seeing the destruction caused.

Residents of nearby flats and student accommodation also had to be evacuated.

People who stayed with Haggerty at a homeless unit close to the scene were on the street as well.

Ms Robertson said: “He had what looked like soot on his hands and face.

“They were suspicious he had started the fire and challenged him.

“He denied it although later stated ‘You all think I started that fire, don’t you? Don’t grass me in’.”

Haggerty was charged with the crime on August 17.

The court heard the fire has left St Simon’s “almost completely destroyed” with only external walls in place, with civil engineering work continuing almost a year after the inferno.

Prosecutor Eilidh Robertson said: “Ryan Haggerty deliberately set fire to St Simon’s.

“Due to the almost complete destruction of the building, little can be ascertained precisely how it started and where the seat of the fire was.”

“If it were to be restored to its former construction then the cost would be several millions.”

The advocate depute said parish priest Canon Peter McBride described the impact of what happened as “terrible and heartbreaking”.

Sister Ross meantime stated it was an “act of good fortune” that she got out when she did that morning.

Prosecutors said the fire was to the danger of the sister’s life.

She added: “I think there would have been a very good chance I could have got smoke inhalation when the fire happened and I did not wake up…possibly worse.”

Euan Dow, defending, told the sentencing that Haggerty had a long-standing drug addiction at the time and has little recollection of the incident.

He added: “Mr Haggerty did not expect anyone to be in the vicinity to be put in danger and is mortified at the impact it had on Sister Ross who was uninjured but it was a highly distressing incident.

“He expresses his remorse and shame for his conduct and he shows no ill will or grudge towards the Catholic church and recognises the significant financial impact of his actions.”

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