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Newry man accused of murdering friend in house fire re-admitted to bail after arson arrest

Gary Magee

A man accused of murdering his drinking partner by setting fire to the victim’s Newry home in 2021 was arrested in relation to a suspected arson attack in April while out on bail, a court has heard.

Gary Anthony Paul Magee, of Parkview in Newry, appeared before the city’s magistrates on Wednesday, via videolink from Maghaberry, in a bid to be re-released on bail.

The 43-year-old is accused of murder and arson with intent to endanger life on May 21, 2021 and has been in custody since his re-arrest in April.

Previously, Newry Magistrates’ Court heard that while the murder victim , Jimmy Thompson, was found lying on a bed and pronounced dead at the scene, Magee was rescued “lying unconscious at the back door” in the kitchen and had suffered a burn to his hand.

Jimmy Thompson house fire

Jimmy Thompson (inset) died as a result of a house fire at his home in May 2021

Magee had been granted bail previously but during Wednesday’s application, Detective Constable McIlwrath – objecting – told the court that Magee had been arrested on April 21 of this year having breached his bail conditions on three counts, namely that he possessed drugs, was under the influence of alcohol and was outside a 10pm curfew.

The breaches were detected following his arrest for two counts of arson, which included setting fire to a van and also a bush, located within the grounds of the San Jose apartments on the Dublin Road. He had been in custody since those alleged offences.

Detective McIlwrath said she was objecting to bail “in the strongest possible terms”.

“He is charged with murder and arson with intent and these offences were committed whilst he was on court bail for assault and theft incidents, which occurred less than two months beforehand, on March 27, 2021.”

She told the court on the date of the fatal fire, two witnesses cited the defendant as being in possession of a bottle of wine and that during interview with police Magee admitted to consuming “eight to 10 Guinness”, as well as taking all of his prescription medication in one go, along with diazepam, and that he had “no recollection of events after 11pm on that date”.

She argued that the proposed bail address – his parents’ home – was unsuitable stating that the “suspect was bailed to that address at the time of the murder and key witnesses in the murder inquiry reside at that address and there is risk of interference with witnesses.”

She contested that the address was in the same street where the murder occurred and that he would be living amongst other witnesses, neighbours and friends of the murder victim, Mr Thompson.

Detective Constable McIlwrath further argued that the defendant is also charged with arson with intent to endanger life regarding the risk which was placed on other families living within adjoining properties on the night of the fire.

“I don’t feel it is acceptable that he should be released to live amongst these people who could, to all intents and purposes, have been further victims of his crimes,” she added.

She also noted police records, which show that Magee was asked to leave the proposed bail address by family members on August 12, 2021, due to “being aggressive to his father Nigel, who is 68 years old”.

Defence solicitor Kevin O’Hare questioned the detective as to whether, during the course of that 12 month period, any resident in that area “contacted police to say that Mr Magee had been intimidating them, or annoying them, or doing anything that might interfere with the criminal justice process”?

The detective conceded that this was not the case.

Mr O’Hare added: “It’s frankly fallacy for police to say, ‘well, we’re concerned that if he was at that address there’d be interference with witnesses’, because he’d been there for a year and there were no issues whatsoever at that property.”

Addressing his arrest in April, Mr O’Hare added: “There was some sort of bush lit somewhere on the Dublin Road. There may have been a vehicle of some description in the proximity to it and Mr Magee is found somewhere else on the Dublin Road and he’s arrested for breach of bail, and remanded into custody.

“…if there’s no forensic evidence or witnesses, I’m not sure that case is going anywhere frankly,” he contended.

Mr O’Hare also addressed his client’s addiction issues but drew the court’s attention to the positive influence of his sister and stressed that, under the right conditions, his release could be managed appropriately.

District Judge Eamonn King, who previously granted Magee bail, said: “I was confident on that occasion that suitable conditions could manage the risk that was posed by the defendant, should he be admitted to liberty. And by and large, those conditions do appear to have been successful in managing the risk until an incident in April of 2022.

“I am satisfied that the defendant, through his legal representatives, has been open and frank to the court, and has conceded he suffers from addiction issues and that, on occasions, he suffers relapses.

“The issue then, as far as the police and PPS are concerned is is there a serious risk to the public should a relapse occur in the future?

“I think I’m satisfied that the conditions that I originally fixed are appropriate and proportionate and can manage that risk.”

“I note that his parents and his sister are present in court and previously they did give this court an assurance that they would do their utmost to manage the risk,” he said, adding that, “in the event of the defendant failing to cooperate with them, that they will notify the police accordingly. Under those circumstances, I’d readmit him to be along the same terms as previously granted.”

The case was listed for Preliminary Enquiry on October 5.

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