FIRE RAISING: Man jailed for starting fire in historic Catholic church

church fire
The Archdiocese of Glasgow said St Simon’s was a “much-loved” parish church.

By William Corless

A man has been jailed for more than five years for starting a fire at a historic church in Partick.

Ryan Haggerty admitted setting St Simon’s in Partick alight in July 2021, leaving it almost completely destroyed.

The 26-year-old was seen coming from the direction of the church with soot on his hands and face.

Haggerty, who has a previous conviction for wilful fire-raising, admitted the crime and was sentenced to five years and three months in prison.

The fire severely damaged the church and an adjoining house where an elderly nun lived.

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.

Prosecutors said the fire was to the danger of the sister’s life. Residents of nearby flats and student accommodation were also evacuated.

People who lived with Haggerty at a homeless unit close to the scene were on the street and saw him coming from the direction of the church with what looked like soot on his hands and face.

The court heard that when they challenged him he denied involvement but later stated: “You all think I started that fire, don’t you? Don’t grass me in.”

Ryan Haggerty

Haggerty, who lived in homeless accommodation nearby, had a long-standing drug addiction at the time, his lawyer said. Picture by Spindrift

The High Court in Glasgow heard it would take “several millions” of pounds to restore the 19th Century building, which is the third oldest Catholic church in the city.

The church had close links with the local Polish community dating back to World War Two.

Only external walls remain and civil engineering work continues almost a year after the blaze.

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.”

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

Miss Robertson said it took no more than 10 minutes from the blaze being ignited to it then engulfing the building.

St Simon's after the fire
Only the shell of the building remained after the fire

She added: “The fire was well developed and visible from several miles away.  It was obvious the church was not salvageable.”

Euan Dow, defending, told the hearing that Haggerty had a long-standing drug addiction at the time and had 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.”

Life at risk

Judge Lord Mulholland told Haggerty: “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 rebuilt 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 supervised for five years on his release.

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