Magistrate dismisses charges

THE awful depth of a family tragedy was revealed in Casino Local Court this week when a Mallanganee man walked away from the courtroom without conviction after pleading guilty to deliberately burning down his family home.

It was found by the magistrate to be an ‘extraordinary’ case.

Desmond Bell, 56, pleaded guilty before magistrate Michael Dakin to recklessly destroying property by fire at Lasson Road, Culmuran Creek, at 9pm on March 29 last year.

The former family home was valued at around $100,000 and the fire also destroyed Bell’s Toyota Hilux which he had driven inside the house before torching the lot using petrol and diesel as accelerants. A $7000 bundle of cash was also destroyed.

After hearing the full details surrounding the fire and the personal tragedies that had befallen Bell’s family through the defence argument from Bell’s lawyer, Ben Cochrane, a sympathetic Mr Dakin found him guilty of the arson offence but without conviction. Bell was put on a section-10, two-year good behaviour bond.

Prosecutor Sgt Peter Costin-Neilsen said police had no exact compensation figures from Bell’s former wife Linda who left her husband before the fire but she would be ‘out of pocket substantially’.

He said police only sought a good behaviour bond.

Mr Cochrane said his client’s wife left him ‘a Dear John letter’ which stated she was leaving him and also included a natural therapy remedy for a smoothie, and instructions on how to use the washing machine.

Bell had recently learned he had life-threatening cancer.

After reading all documents put before him, Mr Dakin said the Director of Public Prosecutions had elected not to proceed against Bell in a higher court after learning the man was terminally ill.

He said Bell had been married 32 years and some years ago a son was killed in a motor vehicle accident with the couple’s second son later committing suicide because of grief.

Bell was diagnosed with cancer in early 2009 and was to undergo surgery when his wife left him.

Mr Dakin said on the night of March 29, 2009, Bell drove his Toyota Hilux through the front door of the family home and lit a fire.

When fire brigade officers attended the blaze Bell would not let them on the property, telling them he lit it.

Police who attended the scene said Bell was intoxicated and told officers he had thoughts ‘of killing himself’ but did not.

Mr Dakin said Bell’s former wife wanted compensation for the destroyed assets but it was difficult to determine a figure with accuracy.

He said there was a degree of premeditation but Bell had been under a great deal of duress at the time with grief and the death of two children along with the diagnosis of cancer and the breakdown of the marriage.

Mr Dakin found Bell was otherwise of good character and unlikely to reoffend.

Taking into account assurances given regarding compensation Mr Dakin said it seemed likely the woman’s financial loss would be made up in the future.

Finding it an ‘extraordinary’ case Mr Dakin did not record a conviction, dismissing the charge and applying a bond.

It was found by the magistrate to be an ‘extraordinary’ case

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