By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
The potential of fire to destroy property or cause destruction is both tremendous and transparent.
So much so that according to the Australian Institute of Criminology, fire is distinguished as the means most capable to cause damage above and beyond any other method of devastation.
With the clear capability of flames to destroy, it comes as no surprise that last week, news spread like wildfire of a man’s inexplicable decision to allegedly crawl into a Sydney petrol station and spray petrol from the bowsers before lighting the fuel alight.
The shocking incident unfolded in the early hours of 26 February 2019 on Regent Street in Chippendale.
According to CCTV footage, which can only be described as disturbing, at around 2:20am, a man is seen to have crawled on his hands and knees towards the petrol station, before approaching the bowsers.
He then grabbed a petrol hose and sprayed petrol all over the ground.
Immediately after this, he took hold of a lighter and ignited the fuel.
Upon witnessing this unravel, a service station attendant hurried out to obtain a fire extinguisher. However, by this stage, the man had crawled over to a second bowser, picked up two hoses, and started spraying petrol again.
He then set alight the second bowser, only for it to almost explode in his face.
- Man Threatens to Put Fuel on Service Station Attendant and Light Place Up
- What are the Penalties for Destroying or Damaging Property in NSW?
Man Threatens to Put Fuel on Service Station Attendant and Light Place Up
According to 7 News, the service station attendant said he spotted the bizarre arsonist on his knee, armed with a petrol pump.
Speaking of the distressing situation, the attendant recounted that the man firstly showed him a lighter.
“I said, ‘why are you doing this,’ and he started yelling, ‘call an ambulance, I’ll light the place up’,” attendant Syed Abbas said.
In a matter of moments, the man ignited the bowser and crawled away from the large fireball.
But this wasn’t all the destruction he would cause. Aside from the arsonist moving towards the second bowser, he also threatened to set the attendant alight after he tried to intervene.
“I sort of ran back to him to get the fire extinguisher, but he threatened to put fuel on me,” Mr Abbas said.
With a fuel pump in both hands and the fire still blazing, the man continued to pour fuel recklessly, before the bowser erupted into a fireball.
Moments later, police and paramedics arrived at the scene.
Arsonist Arrested and Charged with Two Counts of Damaging Property by Fire
It is reported that when police arrived, they found the 31-year-old man with injuries to his knees and ankles.
They then arrested him, following which he was taken to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital for an assessment and treatment for his minor injuries.
The next day, the man was discharged from hospital into police custody.
Taken to Day Street Police Station, the alleged arsonist was then charged with two counts of damaging property by fire.
While the damage to the petrol station was minor and the fire managed to put itself out, the blaze could have unquestionably turned into a greater catastrophe – a sentiment shared by the service station attendant.
“Luckily it didn’t turn out to be a bigger disaster, it could have been worse than that,” Mr Abbas said.
Meanwhile, petrol station owner Evan Hansimikali said he was just glad nobody got hurt.
“You don’t want to see a situation where somebody gets seriously hurt or dies, God forbid.”
When You Play with Fire: Understanding the Legislation in Australia
As the Australian Institute of Criminology advises, the act of intentionally and maliciously destroying or damaging property through the use of fire is understood as arson. Within this definition, there are four key elements:
- The lighting of fire – fire is the fundamental element of arson
- Intention or wilfulness – this excludes fires started by natural causes or accidents
- Malice – excludes fires started intentionally with positive or legitimate intent
- Property – there must be some kind of property or object that is burned.
All Australian states and territories have ordained offences resulting from the unlawful and malicious use of fire. In each jurisdiction, it is an offence to use fire to destroy or damage property.
Additionally, all states and territories regard arson as a serious indictable offence with heavy penalties.
In many cases, arson provisions are established as an extension of criminal damage provisions, with extra penalties where the damage is carried out by means of fire or explosives. This is in recognition of the potential that fire has to cause destruction over and above other means of causing damage.
Some jurisdictions also have specific offences dealing with the use of fire to endanger life. Where a fire results in the death of a person, this is prosecuted under general manslaughter or murder provisions.
In NSW, it is a criminal offence to damage or destroy someone else’s property by means of fire or explosives.
Anyone found guilty of destroying or damaging the property of another will be faced with a maximum penalty of up to 5-years imprisonment.
However, the maximum penalty for doing this by means of a fire or explosive carries up to 10-years imprisonment.
Penalties for Destroying or Damaging Property in the Company of Another Person(s)
A person who destroys or damages property whilst someone else is present at the time will face a maximum penalty of up to 6-years imprisonment. However, anyone who does this by means of fire or explosive will be faced with a maximum penalty of up to 11-years imprisonment.
Penalties for Destroying or Damaging Property During Public Disorder
In addition to these penalties, there is a maximum penalty of up to 7-years imprisonment for damaging or destroying property during a public disorder. That penalty increases to a maximum of 12-years imprisonment if someone commits this offence by means of a fire or explosive.
These penalties are outlined under section 195 Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
Click onto our link for an outline on the penalties for arson offences in NSW.
In order for the court to find you guilty of destroying or damaging property, the prosecution must first prove each of the following elements beyond reasonable doubt:
- You damaged or destroyed someone’s property; and
- You either intentionally did this, or you recklessly did this
The law considers it to have been done ‘recklessly’ if it finds that, at the time, the offender realised that the kind of damage that was caused may have been caused but continued his/her actions regardless.
If the charge involves damage or destruction caused by means of fire or explosive, the prosecution, in addition to the above 2 elements, is also required to prove that the damage or destruction was caused by means of a fire or explosive.
Where the charge involves ‘in company of another person(s)’ or ‘during a public disorder’, in addition to the above 2 elements, the prosecution will also be required to prove that it was done in company or during a public disorder.
For an outline on what ‘damage’ means under the law, click on our link ‘What Does ‘Damage’ Mean?’.
Defences to this charge includes, acting under duress or necessity, self-defence, disputing whether the alleged damage actually constitutes ‘damage’ under the law or whether your actions actually caused the alleged damage or destruction.