Deliberately Lighting Properties on Fire in New South Wales

A 12-year-old boy has been charged after he allegedly lit a series of small fires inside a Dubbo shopping centre, including the popular department store, Kmart.

In the afternoon of Saturday 23 April 2022, the young boy made his way to the Central West mall where he began to light several fires.

According to a statement from NSW Police, around 3:50pm, staff in one of the stores noticed the flames, and although minor, immediately evacuated the business.

Fire and Rescue NSW were promptly called to the scene, and upon examining the location, deemed the fires had been deliberately lit.

In total, the blazes appeared in four different locations across the shopping centre.

Officers from Orana Mid-Western Police District were alerted to the misconduct and commenced an investigation.

Following inquiries, around 12.45pm on Tuesday 25 April, officers arrested a 12-year-old boy over the matter.

The boy was taken to Dubbo Police Station where he was charged with destroy property in company use fire.

After making a bail application in court, he was refused bail and given notice to appear at a children’s court the following day. 

Authorities Warn Deliberately Lighting Fires “Of Great Concern” To Police and Shoppers

The incident has since prompted warnings from authorities around the dangers of deliberately lighting fires.

Notably, Orana Mid-Western Police District Commander, Superintendent Danny Sullivan, said such incidents are of great concern to police especially due to the perils they pose to shoppers.

“The staff responded quickly and appropriately and, as a consequence, everyone was evacuated safely and without injury,” Superintendent Sullivan said.

“The risk posed to the public by such incidents is disturbing and police treat such incidents these very seriously.

“We ask that anyone with information about incidents such as these to contact Dubbo Police,” he added.

Since the 12-year-old boy’s arrest, a second boy has been charged over the alleged fires deliberately lit at the Dubbo shopping complex.

Investigations into the matter are continuing.

Burning Question: Why Do Children Deliberately Light Fires?

It’s a bewildering issue and far from being a rare occurrence, so much so that children playing with fire is common enough to be deemed typical.

So, what exactly is behind the fire-setting behaviour?

Research shows that children and young people initially begin to play with fire largely due to curiosity, with the intrigue with fire developing as a toddler.

As children get older and reach adolescence, fire-setting then commonly takes place as a means to express feelings of anger or emotional distress.

This behaviour is, of course, different to arson, which presents a crime of violence usually involving driving factors of revenge or financial gain.

For a child, the fascination is usually just the appeal of fire itself.

Familiar with the social issue, lecturer in psychology at Southern Cross University, Dr James Donnelly, advises that without help and guidance, fire-setting behaviour can, however, increase and lead to more serious consequences, including severe personal injury and damage to homes, schools and property.

Where a parent is worried about their child, he counsels, it is important to be “very proactive” and vigilant by educating children early should they notice their child engaging in fire-setting behaviours.

“Around the house if you see burned matches or see the child playing with candles or building little fires outside, be very proactive about it, because even with children, punishing them doesn’t necessarily make the fascination go away,” Dr Donnelly advises.

“They have to be educated early on to understand that they’ve got big-boy responsibilities, big-girl responsibilities to take care of fire.

“It’s just like cars, it’s just like learning to ride a bicycle — you get to do it if you’re responsible.”

The Crime of Deliberately Lighting Properties on Fire in New South Wales

As most would assume, it is a criminal offence to damage or destroy another person’s property and indeed to do so by means of fire or explosives.

In NSW, this is reflected in section 195 of the Crimes Act 1990, and given the crime is taken seriously by the courts, harsh penalties are in place to reflect this.

As per section 195, a person found guilty of deliberately or recklessly destroying or damaging property belonging to another where fire or explosives are used to damage that property can face a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in jail.

 However, where the offence takes place in the company of another person or persons, the maximum penalty rises to 11 years in jail.

Additionally, where the aforementioned offences take place during a public disorder, the maximum penalty for destroying or damaging the property by fire or explosives again rises, this time to 12 years in jail.

Defences to this charge can include that you did not commit the act, that you did not intend to destroy or damage the property, that the property destroyed or damaged was your own, necessity or duress.

By Sahar Adatia.

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