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Arson sentence halved for 'Shrek building' fire

A TEENAGE boy who destroyed the "Shrek building" housing old Woorabinda Council records has had his arson sentence halved, entitling him to release from detention.

The now 17 year old's lawyers also successfully argued in the Queensland Court of Appeal that his convictions should not be recorded, because it would affect his future employment prospects, among other reasons.

In a judgment handed down on Friday, Justice Walter Sofronoff detailed the boy's good prospects for rehabilitation and opined the boy's criminal history and the seriousness of his offending had been overstated.

"There was a building at Woorabinda which the locals called the 'Shrek building' because of its green colour," the judgment read.

"It was vacant but was being used for storing old records of the Woorabinda Council.

"It was frequented by children, who would enter it to smoke, sniff glue, drink alcohol and to light small fires.

"One character witness on sentence said there was a fear in the community that these activities might cause the building to burn down one day."

Justice Sofronoff detailed how the boy, who cannot be named because he was aged 15 at the time of the fire, lit a piece of old clothing and threw it into the building on January 10, 2016.

He said the boy then threw into the blaze a small gas cylinder used in portable camping stoves.

"The fire took hold and the building was destroyed," he said.

"There was some damage to an adjacent building but the Shrek building was remote from residences and there was no risk of harm to people living in Woorabinda."

An insurer paid out $565,000 for the damage but Justice Sofronoff said that sum seemed excessive after seeing the photographic and other evidence about the character and state of the building, suggesting the insurance policy could be for a fixed sum.

Justice Sofronoff said the boy ran away as soon as the fire went out of control and hid but other boys implicated him.

He denied starting the fire but a jury found him guilty of arson and two other charges.

The teen's criminal history included throwing rocks at police cars and throwing paint inside someone's house but Justice Sofronoff said most seemed "to be offences committed by him when in company with his peers in the streets of Woorabinda on weekends when they were allowed to run free, sometimes in the dark, with nothing better to do and without adult restraint".

A pre-sentence report tendered to the court during sentencing in Emerald said the boy had attended 10 schools from the age of eight until these offences but noted he had successfully completed community service and probation in the past.

"Whatever might be the grave consequences of imprisonment for an adult who commits an offence such as arson, the consequences of incarceration for a child are likely to be more far-reaching because it is experienced at the start of a life, more severe because of the effect of separation from home, from parents and loved ones and more likely to have potential for harm rather than good, by reason of bad associations made within a detention centre and the harsh experiences encountered there," Justice Sofronoff said.

The appeal court found the arson sentence should be reduced from two years detention to 12 months, meaning the boy should be released immediately having already served nine months behind bars.

The judges found a report from the Woorabinda Youth Justice Group should have been given greater weight in sentencing, noting alternative ways to deal with the boy within his community had been proposed.

They noted his family had taken active steps towards the boy's rehabilitation including moving to Rockhampton to remove him from bad influences.

While the sentencing judge decided to record convictions because of "the egregiousness of the offending", the appeal court found they should not be.

"I can see no possible purpose in branding him for life as a convicted arsonist. It would be likely to hamper presently unforeseeable efforts of his to advance himself and will undoubtedly blight his future prospects of employment and therefore his future, for no gain to anyone," Justice Sofronoff said. - NewsRegional

Topics:  arson queensland court of appeal rockhampton woorabinda woorabinda youth justice group

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