Destroying Property by Means of a Fire or Explosive Law, Offences and Defences NSW

Sahar Adatia.


Divorces are messy at the best time of times.

From having to grudgingly communicate with your ex-partner to splitting every single asset including the furniture and each of your children’s toys, the process is often gruelling and sometimes even filled with rage and revenge.

This was certainly the case for one man in the United Kingdom, who, exasperated at the thought of his estranged wife getting her share of assets after a miserable divorce, decided to burn down his £550,000 cottage with a blowtorch, three days before it was due to be sold.

Pensioner John McCorry from Kennford in England was disgruntled with the imminent sale of his cottage situated near Exeter where he and his once-wife Hilary had lived for 20 years.

A few days before it was expected to hit the market, the 75-year-old had been drinking when he decided he would set the workshop of the house on fire with the help of a blowtorch and a supply of propane gas cannisters.

Once the property set ablaze, Mr McCorry sat back in a chair and sipped on a whiskey, beaming in satisfaction that his ex-wife would be left empty, all while the flames continued to enrage.

Then, he casually turned to his neighbour and said, “I’m watching it burn”.


Exeter Crown Court Hears Mr McCorry Set House Ablaze “By Accident While Smoking”

When Mr McCorry faced Exeter Crown Court over the incident which took place in June last year, the court heard Mr McCorry, a retired carpenter, had stopped his wife from removing her belongings from the house earlier in the day.

He had also given her his dog to look after.

Moreover, it was heard the man did not call emergency services to extinguish the fire, nor did he attempt to extinguish it himself, while the only reason the cottage was not entirely destroyed was due to swift action by the firefighters who managed to prevent the nearby gas cannisters from exploding.

Nevertheless, the fire resulted in significant damage to the roof and one of the mezzanine floors, so much so that the house, which was due to be sold for £550,000, only ended up selling for £320,000.

Ultimately, Mr McCorry admitted to destroying the property with fire and being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

He nonetheless claimed he started the inferno by accident while smoking or while using a blowtorch to clean the brass door handles in his workshop and could only sit and watch the blaze go up due to being in a state of shock – an account which was dismissed by Judge Keith Cutler after facts revealed otherwise.

In addressing the case, Judge Cutler said the situation was “very sad”.

“It may be that the drink he had taken brought on a maudlin and depressed mood and he was thinking about leaving the house he had known and loved,” Judge Cutler said.

“He felt resentment about it all. This was a fire started deliberately out of animosity towards his ex-wife with the intention of burning the property down.

“It may have been inspired by him being depressed, but that is what he did and that is why he was in the garden watching the house burn down.”

Mr McCorry’s sentencing has been adjourned until August, until which he has been granted conditional bail.

However, Judge Cutler informed the man he is likely to end up behind bars.

Destroying Property by Means of a Fire or Explosive Law, Offences and Defences NSW

In the odd case you’re actually contemplating burning down an ex’s property – or anyone’s – for that matter, it’s probably a good idea to have an understanding of the law around this.

Firstly, as most would assume, it is against the law to damage or destroy another person’s property, let alone by means of fire or explosives.

In fact, when another person’s property is damaged or destroyed and this is carried out by means of fire or explosives, the penalties become very serious.

In NSW, destroying or damaging property belonging to another person is a criminal offence pursuant to section 195(1b) of the Crimes Act 1900

According to this section, a person found guilty of the offence can face a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in jail.

However, it should be noted that this penalty increases according to the circumstances in which the offending took place.

Specifically, if the offence was carried out in the company of another person or persons, the maximum penalty jumps to up to 11 years in jail.

Moreover, where these aforementioned offences are carried out along with being during a public disorder, the maximum penalty jumps once more to up to 12 years in jail.

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