23 May 2020

Oamaru teen arsonist had psychosis, court hears

4:44 pm on 23 May 2020

An Oamaru youth asked his mother for cannabis and a petrol can before deliberately lighting two gas bottles, setting his house ablaze, a court heard this week.

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A youth appeared in Oamaru District Court this week after setting his house on fire. Photo: Supplied / Waitaki District Council

The then 17-year-old, who was granted final name suppression by Judge Dominic Dravitzki in Oamaru District Court on Tuesday, had severe mental health problems at the time of the 26 December 2018 fire, which gutted a Reed St rental property and damaged three neighbouring properties.

Now aged 18, the man was convicted and discharged on four charges of arson, in what Judge Dravitzki described as an ''unusual'' but necessary sentence, given the defendant's mental state and ongoing treatment.

On the day of the fire the man, who was at home with his mother, two sisters and his mother's partner, requested his mother give him cannabis and a petrol can, which she refused to do, the court heard.

About 2.30pm the family went out, leaving the defendant to his own devices.

A few minutes later, neighbours and passers-by reported large plumes of thick, black smoke coming from the property and contacted emergency services.

When they arrived, the man was on the front lawn, dressed only in shorts.

He had burns to his face, hands, arms and one of his buttocks. He had also singed his eyebrows and hair, and was treated for his injuries at Oamaru Hospital.

When interviewed by police, the man admitted he started the blaze by intentionally lighting two gas bottles because he wanted to see them explode.

The blaze caused more than $600,000 in damage.

After being assessed by a physician shortly after the incident, the man was declared not mentally fit to enter a plea, but a later report by a different doctor found he was, the court was told.

He had been suffering from a "working diagnosis of psychosis", Judge Dravitzki said, a condition that had improved with ongoing treatment, including medication.

"What you did, as you know, was extremely serious ... and it had massive consequences. The consequences could have been worse. You were clearly very, very unwell at the time."

He said the defendant would not gain from a custodial or community-based sentence.

The man was also ordered to pay $3506 reparation at $20 a week.

- This story first appeared in the Otago Daily Times