Pair plead guilty to arson for four fires near Maryborough - one which threatened life of elderly woman

TWO men who were complicit in lighting four grass fires near Maryborough – one of which burnt within 15 metres of a house where a 90-year-old woman slept – have each pleaded guilty to two counts of arson.

But despite being charged 27 months ago, their case has been delayed by another two months after there was no psychological report carried out on the men while they were on bail.

Braydon Colin Poole, 23, of Charlton, and Robert James Humphrey, 23, of Maryborough, pleaded guilty in the Bendigo County Court on Tuesday.

A third co-accused who was charged with arson for allegedly lighting the fires will face a fitness to stand trial hearing at a later date.

Three of the fires occurred overnight between January 14 and 15, 2016.

The court heard Poole and Humphrey were in a car with at least two others, including their co-accused, when they lit a fire in roadside grass on the Sunraysia Highway at Lexton at 11.32pm.

Poole and Humphrey were present when another fire was lit on the side of the highway at Waubra 14 minutes later.

The group drove to Ballarat and on the way back to Maryborough a third fire was lit on the edge of the Sunraysia Highway, this time at Lamplough, at 3.48am. The fire travelled north into grass and shrubs.

There was no reported damage from the three fires.

On January 17, Poole and Humphrey were with the co-accused when a fire was lit on the side of Avoca-Bealiba Road at Archdale Junction, west of Dunolly. The fire was lit at 12.32am.

It quickly spread into a nearby haystack, setting 50 bails on fire, when it was spotted by a firefighter who called Triple-0.

The fire burnt within 15 metres of a house where a 90-year-old woman was asleep, the court heard. Nine CFA units were able to contain it before it could cause any property damage.

Poole and Humphrey were arrested and charged almost two months later. Poole made “lengthy admissions” to an undercover policeman while in a police cell, detailing the fires.

The court was told Humphrey has “cognitive limitations” and a low IQ, while Poole has been able to abstain from alcohol and offending while on bail.

Both have served 86 days in custody.

Judge Paul Grant said time-served was unlikely to be enough, but he would await the results of a psychological report before sentencing in August – a delay he described as “incredibly frustrating”.

Judge Grant said it was fortunate that the fires did not end in tragedy.

“He put a woman who was 90 years old at risk of death, his behaviour was so shocking and criminal,” he said.