Millionaire golf pro burns own £900,000 home to spite estranged wife

Francis McGuirk, once ranked among the top 700 golfers in the world, narrowly dodged jail (Picture: David Cannon/R&A via Getty Images)

A millionaire golf pro has narrowly avoided jail after trying to burn down his £900,000 family home after the breakdown of his marriage.

Francis McGuirk, 50, told firefighters he ‘didn’t want the b***h to have everything’ as they saved the Kent home he co-owned with former partner Sarah McGuirk.

He had sent his estranged wife messages threatening to ‘burn the house to the ground’ with himself inside shortly before the arson attack on June 25 last year.

The sportsman struck while his wife and three daughters were away, leaving the seafront Sandwich property empty except for him and Dolly, their cavapoo dog.

Speaking of the fire that spread just after 8pm, Prosecutor Caroline Knight told Canterbury Crown Court: ‘Sarah was at a dinner party on the night of the incident.

‘Knowing the address would be empty, the defendant let himself in. He locked the doors before snapping the keys in the locks from the inside.

‘He first tried to start a fire using some cooking oil, which didn’t take, so he then set fire to some cushions in the living room using lighter fluid.’

In one of the voice messages Mr McGuirk sent to his wife describing what he was doing during the incident, he said: ‘I’ll probably throw Dolly out of the window in a minute so that’s all good.’

MrGuirk’s children had to leave their family home due to their father’s attempt to burn it down (Picture: Josef Vostarek/CTV via AP)

Mr McGuirk was prevented from completely destroying the property after a passerby saw smoke and alerted neighbours, who called 999.

The prosecutor said: ‘The defendant was outside the house, in their view acting bizarrely and refusing emergency services.

‘A private security guard attended and saw the defendant outside the property apparently trying to get back inside to rescue the family dog.

‘The defendant made admissions of starting the fire with the aim of burning the house to the ground, telling firefighters: “I didn’t want the b***h to have everything”.’

Firefighters managed to extinguish the flames and rescue the dog.

But smoke had ‘spread throughout the property, covering each room and the contents inside with a coat of oily soot’, Ms Knight said.

It also caused significant damage to the house on Waldershare Avenue, a four-minute drive from Royal St George’s where he played his only ever golf major.

Everything in the living room was destroyed, and McGuirk’s daughters were left unable to live in their own home.

Psychiatric evaluations concluded Mr McGuirk was trying to end his own life in the fire (Picture: Josef Vostarek/CTK via AP)

Mr McGuirk, who played in The Open in 2011, caused himself minor injuries. He was treated for suspected smoke inhalation and flash burns.

Defence barrister Danny Moore claimed the arson attack started as a serious attempt by Mr McGuirk to end his own life.

Referring to psychiatric evaluations of his client, Moore said: ‘The authors of the reports view the commission of the offence as a genuine suicide attempt.

‘There were other intentions wrapped up in the behaviour, but underlying this, there is someone who has had serious psychiatric problems.

‘One of the punishments the defendant has suffered as a result of this action is that he hasn’t seen his children since the day of this offence.

‘Your honour knows that the defendant has been a professional golfer and he hopes to return to this once these proceedings have come to an end.’

Mr Moore also pointed to ‘glowing’ character references and said his client was not a risk to the public and had a low risk of reoffending

He also claimed McGuirk, formerly a was a professional at Prince’s Golf Club and once ranked among the top 700 golfers in the world, was essentially of previous good character.

Mr McGuirk’s home where he started a fire is located near the golf club where he appeared at his one and only golf major (Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Hearing this mitigation, Recorder Edmund Fowler said: ‘I do find that there was an intent to cause very serious damage.

‘I don’t find that it was simply a consequence of him wanting to kill himself – there are other ways to do that without destroying a family home by fire.

‘It was based on spite – that being said, culpability is affected considerably by his mental state at the time.

‘What I take from the character references is that he does accept what he did was quite disgraceful and causes real harm to other people, and he has taken responsibility for that.’

Mr McGuirk, of Underriver near Sevenoaks, remained emotionless through proceedings, where he appeared in the dock wearing a suit and tie.

He spoke only to confirm his name and the guilty plea for arson he had previously entered at magistrates’ court.

Returning to the courtroom to deliver his judgement after a period of deliberation, Recorder Fowler said: ‘You caused considerable damage and psychological harm to others.

‘You also harmed your own children. Your daughters were forced to leave their home during an already difficult period of their lives.

‘This did start out as a serious attempt to kill yourself and that does to my mind reduce your culpability.

‘And you have since sought help to improve your mental health and your drinking problem.’

Mr McGuirk was given a custodial sentence of 20 months, suspended for two years, and ordered to pay £13,555 in costs.

He must also complete 200 hours of unpaid work in the community, attend 30 sessions of rehabilitation activities, and take part in alcohol abstinence monitoring for 120 days.

Recorder Fowler also imposed a five-year restraining order forbidding McGuirk from contacting his soon-to-be ex-wife, with the former couple engaged in divorce proceedings.

The recorder added: ‘Mr McGuirk, I make it very clear to you that were you to commit any offence within the next two years, you would be brought back here and almost certainly go straight into custody.

‘You have come very very close to going straight inside.’

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