Former firefighter who caused bushfire with car arson sentenced

18 June 2021

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AUSTRALIA -A former volunteer firefighter has avoided imprisonment for setting his car on fire to make a fraudulent insurance claim, causing a bushfire in Creswick.

The fire continued to spread over the next 12 to 15 hours burning about two hectares of bushland in the Creswick Pine Plantation, the court heard.

James Kilroy, 34, appeared at the Ballarat Magistrates’ Court on Friday afternoon to be sentenced for the ‘serious’, ‘premeditated’ and ‘planned’ offending.

Magistrate Letizia Torres said it was ‘astounding’ Kilroy, from Dean, chose to recklessly start a fire given his involvement in the CFA.

“You must have realised how dangerous it was to start a fire,” she said.

“You went on with your plan and maintained your innocence for a long time thereafter.”

Kilroy pleaded guilty to setting fire to his car, making a fraudulent insurance claim and making a false report to police during a court hearing in April.

You must have realised how dangerous it was to start a fire.

Magistrate Letizia Torres

The charges of recklessly causing a bushfire and recklessly causing injury to a young witness who was burnt in the fire were withdrawn.

Kilroy asked the witness, who was a young CFA volunteer he had a mentor-type relationship with, to follow him in his car into Creswick Pine Plantation about 9.15pm on November 10, 2018.

The witness saw the accused push his red Ford Ranger Ute down a hill where it came to rest on a tree on the verge of bushland.

Kilroy doused the car in petrol and lit it on fire with a lighter, causing the fire to flare up and strike the witness.

The witness received burns to his wrist, waist and Kilroy drove him to hospital in Ballarat, leaving his car to burn.

The fire spread over the next 12 to 15 hours, burning about two acres of bushland in the Creswick Pine Plantation.

Kilroy made a report to police the next day his car had been stolen from outside a Creswick address and he fraudulently made an insurance claim.

The valuation of the claim was $48,000, but no money was paid out.

The accused was arrested and interviewed on March 2, 2019 and denied any involvement in the incident.

Defence barrister Lucy Dawson said Kilroy was already in considerable debt and his financial struggles had worsened since he had to stop working to care for his children due to his ex-wife’s ill-health.

The car that was set alight was subject to finance and Kilroy is still paying it off monthly.

She said Ms Torres should take into account Kilroy’s good character, lack of prior convictions, strong employment prospects and family support into account in sentencing.

The court heard there was extra-curial punishment as Kilroy was no longer welcome within the CFA community and his family had been isolated from their community.

In her sentencing remarks, Ms Torres said Kilroy set an ‘extremely poor’ example to someone he was supposed to be mentoring.

“It is appalling behaviour on many levels,” she said.

Ms Torres said it was a difficult sentencing exercise, but ultimately she decided not to sentence Kilroy to a term of imprisonment.

“It was borderline… but jail is a last resort,” she said.

Kilroy was sentenced to a two-year community corrections order with a requirement to undergo supervision and psychiatric treatment and complete 250 hours of unpaid work.

Ms Torres granted a Victoria Police application for compensation for investigative costs.

Kilroy will have to pay more than $3300 to Victoria Police within two years.

Ms Torres said a CFA application for $88,000 compensation to cover the costs of fighting the fire should not be heard at court.

“They need to deal directly with him and if they can’t come to an agreement they can sue him,” she said.

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