Junction Hotel arson trial: Men in negotiations over hotel claim owners were in financial stress before fire

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TWO men negotiating over the Junction Hotel claim its owners were in financial difficulty in the lead-up to a fire that destroyed the premises in 2014.

The hotel’s then-owner Jozef Jansen, 65, and his son Remco Jansen, 42, appeared at the second day of a trial in the Bendigo County Court after pleading not guilty to a charge of arson for gain.

The court heard evidence from Michael Stevens, who paid $20,000 and $2000 deposits on the hotel in Ravenswood in August 2013 with a view to purchasing the pub.

He started moving belongings into the Junction Hotel in 2014 and held garage sales from the premises, and was close to signing the contract when he found out about a VicRoads overlay on the property.

“They were just wanting me to sign as quick as I could,” Mr Stevens told the court.

“I just knew they were having a lot of financial problems.”

He pulled out of the deal on June 6 – three days before the fire.

Mr Stevens said he lost a lot of belongings in the fire, and claimed he never received his deposit back from the Jansens.

The court was told that in mid-2013, local winemaker Scott Harrington also took an interest in the property. He attempted to negotiate a lease for the Junction Hotel, to turn it into a cellar door for wine and cider, and claimed he signed a heads of agreement with Jozef Jansen.

The deal was cancelled however, when Mr Stevens signalled his intention of buying the property with no plans of leasing it to Mr Harrington.

Mr Harrington told the court the Jansens were keen to sell rather than lease because of their financial issues.

“They were currently experiencing some hardship with their mortgage, they were in arrears of their mortgage,” he said.

Jozef Jansen has also been charged with obtaining property by deception, for claiming more than $300,000 from APIA.

In his opening address, prosecutor Kevin Doyle told the court the Jansens received a $129,000 notice of default from the Commonwealth Bank in May 2014.

Jozef Jansen lived in the Junction Hotel with his wife.

The court heard his wife booked them into a motel in Moama for June 9 – the night of the fire. The booking was made on June 6, the day they found out the sale with Mr Stevens had fallen through.

Jozef Jansen purchased the hotel from Barry Lyons for $152,000 in 2007, and initially managed to meet his repayments.

Bendigo CFA senior station officer Darren Eenjes was the first person on the scene of the fire about 9.30pm, as he was driving past on the Calder Highway with his family.

He told the court the fire was in the back of the building, but he had time to retrieve some photographs from the walls before fire brigades arrived.

“I think it was two or three boxes of things, photos off the walls, I put them outside,” Mr Eenjes said.

The court was earlier told the fire started in the office, either from an overloaded powerboard or in a computer.

Screenshots from a conversation between Remco Jansen and his friend Nathan Waddington were tendered to court. The conversation showed Mr Waddington told Remco about the fire after seeing posts on Facebook.

When he was informed about the fire, Remco Jansen responded: “what bulls---”, and “really???”

The trial continues.