Junction Hotel arson trial: Jozef Jansen denies conspiring to burn down hotel, claims he had no financial issues

Jozef Jansen (facing) repeatedly denied his involvement in the fire that gutted the Junction Hotel in Ravenswood on June 9, 2014.
Jozef Jansen (facing) repeatedly denied his involvement in the fire that gutted the Junction Hotel in Ravenswood on June 9, 2014.

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A MAN accused of conspiring to burn down the Junction Hotel to allegedly falsely receive an insurance payout claims he was not in financial difficulty, and he remained confident the hotel would have sold before it was destroyed by fire.

The hotel’s then-owner Jozef Jansen, 65, and his son Remco Jansen, 42, appeared at the sixth day of their arson for gain trial in the Bendigo County Court on Tuesday.

The hotel burned down on June 9, 2014, three days after its sale fell through.

Jozef Jansen’s interview with police from November 5 was played to the court, in which he first learns from police that they have been monitoring his calls with Remco Jansen for more than a month.

The calls included Jozef and Remco Jansen discussing their story about why sentimental items were removed from the hotel before the fire. They both gave conflicting accounts to police.

When Detective Sergeant Colin Grenfell suggested Jozef Jansen had “full knowledge” of the fire before it occurred, Jansen replied that he was “full of it”.

Jozef Jansen said he planned to take a man to court over the failed sale in an attempt to force the sale through, and that they had some money “on the side” regardless.

“It would have been sold,” he told police.

“All we had to do was to go court, and he had to buy it.

“Why would I set it on fire? It didn’t matter to me, I would have sold it.”

Police believe Jozef Jansen was referring to Scott Harrington, who wanted to lease the property and had signed a heads of agreement. The Jansens pulled out of the deal when a person came forward with an offer to buy.

That sale fell through when it was discovered there was a VicRoads overlay on the property.

Three days later, the Junction Hotel was gutted by fire.

In his closing remarks, prosecutor Kevin Doyle said there was a motive, timing, and other incriminating events before and after the fire.

He said the fact Remco Jansen’s phone was using a south-facing cell of the Big Hill phone tower at 9pm – 20 minutes before the fire was discovered – was an “extraordinary coincidence”.

“The unchallenged evidence of (Optus engineer) Oleg Prypoten is that you can’t make a call from Remco’s address in Kangaroo Flat that bounces off the E2 cell of the Big Hill tower,” Mr Doyle said.

“Remco’s phone is out at the Big Hill E2 cell which, on the map, is right in the coverage for the Junction Hotel.

“He’s out there at the hotel.”

Remco Jansen told police he did not leave Kangaroo Flat on June 9 until he was made aware of the fire.

Four hours earlier, just after 5pm, Jozef Jansen and Remco Jansen exchanged text messages, in which Remco mentioned there was a police car in front of the Junction Hotel. It was a highway patrol member waiting for a hoon driver, the court was told.

The conversation started with Jozef Jansen asking him: “still cold?” followed by, “I must be no good at it”.

Defence counsel David Gray said there was “no direct evidence of human involvement in the fire”, and that two arson chemists had concluded it was an electrical fire started within the office.

He compared the case with the incorrect guilty verdict given to Lindy Chamberlain, and encouraged the jury to avoid “speculation”.