Two men responsible for lighting 19 fires in Eaglehawk and other suburbs in January and February causing $825,000 damage have been sent to jail.
Ricky Mackay, 22, was sentenced to five years and three months jail, with a non-parole period of three years on 13 counts of arson and summary offences for lighting fires in the fire danger period.
Corey Deveraux, 23, was sentenced to five years jail with a three-year non-parole period after pleading guilty to 11 counts of arson and other offences. Both men were also guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
The two men have served 236 days in custody – included in their sentence – meaning they will be eligible for parole in early 2019.
Judge Jane Campton sentenced Mackay and Deveraux in the Bendigo County Court on Thursday.
She said the fires had impacted the Bendigo community in many ways, robbing community groups of educational and sporting facilities.
“While no lives were lose, the community lost valuable educational assets and sports facilities that enriched lives,” Judge Campton said.
“All of the firefighters had to suffer the danger, stress and exhaustion through the fires that you thoughtlessly lit.
“The protection of the community is an important consideration.”
The first fire was lit on January 20 in bushland in Kangaroo Flat. The last was on February 21 in a bin at a rehabilitation centre in Eaglehawk, when the men were caught by police.
Spate of fires left Eaglehawk on edge
Firefighters faced fatigue and exhaustion, community groups lost irreplaceable assets, and Bendigo’s detectives confronted heightened scrutiny – the effects of the Eaglehawk arson attacks were far-reaching.
The sentencing of Ricky Mackay and Corey Deveraux on Thursday brought to an end almost eight months of court proceedings, and provided some resolution for those affected.
Detective Senior Constable Erin Ross was given the task of catching the arsonists in the act, as they continued to torment the Eaglehawk community with repeated attacks.
She said the suspects were on their radar, but as the fires continued, the pressure to make the arrests grew.
“We had an idea who it was, it’s just a matter of being able to put all the evidence together and gather as much as we could so we have enough to get the arrest,” Detective Senior Constable Ross said.
“There was a lot of time spent at the office, there was a lot of time spent away from our families.
“There was a lot of criticism ... and that’s hurtful when you put your heart and soul into putting people behind bars for what they’re doing to the community.
“So this is a fantastic result and we’re very happy with how it went.”
Mackay and Deveraux showed little emotion when they were sentenced in the Bendigo County Court. Both were given three-year non-parole periods, while Mackay’s five-year and three-month overall sentence was three months longer than Deveraux’s.
Their expressions of remorse, lack of prior convictions, status as youthful offenders and good prospects of rehabilitation were considered in sentencing.
Neither admitted to being the lead arsonist – a view supported by a psychologist’s reports into the pair.
Mackay’s social, physical and mental shortcomings meant he was unlikely to be assertive enough to lead.
Deveraux maintained he was the “follower”, writing letters of apology to those affected, which Judge Jane Campton believed demonstrated “genuine remorse”.
They were described to the court as “feeding off one another”.
The psychologist’s report found neither man could be considered a pyromaniac.
Mackay moved to Eaglehawk at the end of 2015 after losing his job in Melbourne. He moved in with Deveraux and others, and within months the pair were lighting the fires.
Their first fire acted as a test. On January 20 they lit bushland alight on Kangaroo Gully Road, burning 25 square metres.
Deveraux called the CFA from Mackay’s phone, and they watched it appear on Deveraux’s Fire Ready phone app. His username was “Fire is so f---in fun”.
Two nights later they lit another fire on Diamond Hill Road in Kangaroo Flat, again watching it appear on the app. They went to watch firefighters put it out.
The fires increased in frequency and severity over the next three weeks, causing $825,000 in damage to public and private property.
Mackay and Deveraux were spotted at the scene of several fires. On one occasion they gave false statements to police, leading to the charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
The Bendigo Baseball Association, Future Employment Opportunities and the Rotary Club of Eaglehawk were among those targeted during the arson spree.
The fire in the baseball clubrooms at Albert Roy Reserve caused $550,000 damage, and destroyed $35,000 in equipment and memorabilia spanning the association’s 80-year history. A second fire, in a shipping container, caused $20,000 in damage.
A portable building at Future Employment Opportunities in Eaglehawk was destroyed, costing $98,700.
More than $55,000 damage was done to the Rotary Book Shop on High Street during a fire that had the potential to spread to neighbouring buildings.
The historic scoreroom at Canterbury Park was gutted by fire, causing $66,000 in damage. A firefighter was hospitalised and missed weeks of work after injuring a leg.
Other firefighters suffered heat stress and fatigue.
All of the arson attacks happened in the space of weeks at the height of the summer heat.
Detective Senior Constable Ross said the crimes were devastating for the Eaglehawk community.
“The victims, what they’ve lost, some of it can’t be replaced. Like for the baseball club, some of that memorabilia - you can put money on clothing and equipment - but the actual items they lost in the fires, you can’t put a price on that,” she said.
“It was over 30 years of memorabilia they lost.
“At Future Employment Opportunities – they lost a lot as well, they lost their portables. They give people the opportunity to develop their future and their skills.
“The High Street book shop – the victim’s husband owned that building and he passed away, and that’s what she had to remember him by.”
Victim impact statements were read to the court outlining the effects of the fires – from firefighters, community leaders and others affected.
Three fires were also lit near the train line through Eaglehawk, close to houses. One almost engulfed a tree alongside a house – a fire that could have caused widespread damage and threatened lives.
The fact no lives were lost was a blessing.
“To be able to give (the victims) a call now and say we got the people, they’ve been found guilty, to let them know what happened, that’s fantastic,” Detective Senior Constable Ross said.
January 20: fire burns 25 square metres of bushland at 2.55am on Kangaroo Gully Road, Kangaroo Flat.
January 22: a small fire burns 20 square metres of scrub at 5am on Diamond Hill Road, Kangaroo Flat.
January 26: a fire is lit in bins at the Eaglehawk Railway Station at 9.40pm.
January 27: three grass fires are lit a the Eaglehawk Railway Station at 1.20am. The first is on the Hall Street side, the second near Panton Street and the third is along a fence line.
January 31: a small fire on Bendigo-Pyramid Hill Road, Woodvale, burns about three square metres.
January 31: fire burns 13 square metres on Whipstick Road, near Lightning Hill, at 12.30am.
February 2: fire burns part of a portable building at Future Employment Opportunities in Eaglehawk at 2.50am.
February 9: carpet and timber off cuts are set alight at St Liborius Catholic Primary School at 7.20am.
February 19: recycling bins at the Stewart Cowen Rehabilitation Centre are set alight at 6.30am.
February 20: bins are set alight behind Tristar Medical Group in Eaglehawk at 4.20am.
February 21: fires are lit in bins at the Stewart Cowen Rehabilitation Centre, just before the men's arrest.