Alarming number of teens charged over fires

 

A WHOPPING 136 children have been charged with endangering property in Queensland by lighting fires in the past two years, extraordinary new figures reveal.

The Courier -Mail can also reveal only 18 of those offenders were convicted, which comes as several teenagers stand accused of lighting fires that have ravaged the state in a bushfire season from hell.

The alarming figures show 48 youths were charged with endangering property by fire in 2018, with 88 youths charged with the offence in 2017.

But in each year just nine of those children were convicted.

Others were either cautioned, forced to meet with their victims, or had their charges dropped.

During this year's horror fire season, several children have been charged with the offence, including a 16-year-old boy accused of lighting a fire at Yeppoon that destroyed more than 30 structures, as well as a 14-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl charged over the destructive Peregian blazes in September.

The alarming statistic has raised questions about a lack of justice for Queensland families who have lost everything and sparked calls for the state's laws to be changed so that youth offenders are forced to apologise to their victims and made to attend burn wards at hospitals.

In NSW, child offenders are made to pay compensation, assist with clean-up operations, and treat injured animals.

Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said child arsonists should be made to apologise for the pain they have caused.

"These kids should face real consequences for their actions and be made to front up, apologise to their victims and even attend a burns unit," she said.

"The community expects punishments for these malicious fire bugs to reflect the enormous damage their actions cause.

"The Palaszczuk Labor Government … could follow New South Wales' lead where offenders are forced to help clean up, plant trees and treat injured animals."

Firefighters on the scene of the Peregian Beach bushfire, which was allegedly started by two teenagers. Picture: Lachie Millard
Firefighters on the scene of the Peregian Beach bushfire, which was allegedly started by two teenagers. Picture: Lachie Millard

Of the children charged with the offence last year, 35 were let off with a caution, figures show.

Twenty-eight out of 88 were let off with a caution in 2017.

Thirty-two children were referred to the restorative justice process in the past two years, which simply encourages offenders to meet with their victims.

Acting Attorney-General Stirling Hinchliffe said the State Government was focused on community safety, breaking the cycle of offending and stopping kids from reoffending.

"We know that if we persist with a 'lock 'em up and throw away the key' approach, young offenders are almost guaranteed to reoffend," he said.


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