House fire arson charge
TEENAGER Dhyanesh Gunther had 11 mates staying with him on a Friday night sleepover when they had to flee his Lismore family home after a deliberately lit fire erupted downstairs.
Yesterday, Anthony Towns, 43, was granted conditional bail by Lismore Local Court Magistrate Michael Dakin after he appeared charged with maliciously destroy/damage property with intent to endanger the life of Dhyanesh Gunther and other persons at 12.40am on October 31.
Police prosecutor Sgt Brett Asser opposed bail, stating it was a serious allegation to set fire to a house when people were inside.
He said Towns was already on bail for other matters, including a charge of malicious damage. He also had a lengthy police record dating back to 1980.
Sgt Asser said Towns visited the Coleman Street house twice before the fire to get a cigarette lit. He said there had been an argument with the occupants of the house down the road before the fire started. Towns had also given police his address as care of the Lismore Soup Kitchen, which suggested he did not have strong ties with the area.
Defence lawyer Tom Trembath said the charge was circumstantial with police relying on evidence of his client going to the house twice before the fire.
Mr Trembath said Towns was visiting Lismore because of a friend’s pregnancy and wanted to return to Forster in NSW after the birth.
Mr Dakin said he was not prepared to grant bail without a cash surety of $1000 from a person other than Towns. He found there were exceptional circumstances in which to grant bail, stating the police case was not strong and was based on circumstantial evidence.
Referring to police facts, Mr Dakin said Towns went to the house twice in 30 minutes asking for a light to his cigarette before being followed by occupants when he took a purple lighter, telling them he would be back in five minutes.
He said police called to the home found a fire well established and ‘on the verge of engulfing the premises’.
Yesterday, home owner Steve Gunther surveyed the fire damage saying he was relieved there had been no injuries to his son and friends. Although the damage was significant, there was no major structural damage, he said.