Teens starting bushfires get slap on the wrist

NOT one juvenile has been locked up by the courts for starting bushfires in the past five years with just seven supervised community service orders being the harshest penalties handed down.

Only 13 teenagers have been convicted since 2014 despite more than 200 suspected of lighting vegetation fires in NSW in that time, figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph have revealed.

Details of those 13 cases are ­almost impossible to obtain with judgments from Children's Court proceedings rarely published on court websites even though the identities of the teenagers remain secret.

 

RFS volunteers and NSW Fire and Rescue faced catastophic fire conditions in past of NSW this month. Picture: AAP
RFS volunteers and NSW Fire and Rescue faced catastophic fire conditions in past of NSW this month. Picture: AAP

 

Arson investigator Mitchell Parish yesterday said he was not surprised at the penalties.

"They would be kids who have been caught with lighting a ­number of fires and a history of doing it. I don't think that is tough at all," the former NSW Police arson squad officer and RFS ­volunteer said.

Mr Parish, now a private arson investigator, said in his experience most kids lit fires for a thrill and he had interviewed teenagers who broke down in tears because they had not realised the gravity of the ramifications.

Chemical fire retardant is seen after being dropped to protect houses in South Turramurra, on November 12, one of the fires believed to be deliberately lit.
Chemical fire retardant is seen after being dropped to protect houses in South Turramurra, on November 12, one of the fires believed to be deliberately lit.

In those cases, a slap on the wrist by the police in the form of youth conferencing and cautions were justified but there were those who had gone on to become serial arsonists.

"I think the courts could be getting tougher," he said.

There were 59 juveniles aged between 10 and 17 charged with lighting bushfires between June 2014 and June this year with 13 of them convicted or pleading guilty, according to NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research ­figures.

The youngest convicted were three 14-year-olds.

A NSW RFS firefighter mops up at South Turramurra on November 12, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. Picture: Getty
A NSW RFS firefighter mops up at South Turramurra on November 12, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. Picture: Getty

One of them was sentenced to a supervised community service order which can include up to 250 hours of community service ­depending on their age. Three ­received unsupervised community service orders which includes them being of good behaviour, going to school and counselling.

Between June 2017 and June 2018, not one juvenile was convicted despite 53 being caught lighting bushfires in that time with eight criminally charged.

The former boss of the state's bushfire squad, Strike Force Tronto, yesterday backed police who issue cautions but he said that serial offenders needed to be locked up.

"If they are continual offenders, they might be local hoodlums, and they have a track record then the courts should be saying enough is enough and put them in the bin," John Laycock said.

Both Mr Parish and Mr Laycock said serial arsonists were difficult to stop.

Police are still investigating the two bushfires that hit South Turramurra last week which they ­believe were deliberately lit.

A NSW Police Force spokesman said that criminal charges were laid when appropriate.

"The NSW Police Force prioritises prevention, intervention, and diversion when dealing with young people," he said.

"Depending on the circumstances surrounding an incident, action will be taken as deemed ­appropriate, which includes criminal charges."


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