A man who set two Bendigo homes ablaze, resulting in the death of a beloved pet, was experiencing psychosis and remembers nothing of why he committed the crimes, a court has heard.
Dwayne Adam Dover appeared in the County Court on Tuesday, pleading guilty to two counts of arson, one charge of attempted arson, and one charge of failing to answer bail.
In July last year, the 37-year-old was living in a 100-year-old, heritage-listed miner's cottage with his uncle in West Bendigo, while his grandmother lived in a house on the same property.
About 6am on July 3, Dover set the cottage alight.
His uncle awoke, saw the front of the house alight and yelled for Dover to get out, before running out and alerting others to call emergency services.
The fire killed Dover's uncle's cat, caused extensive damage to the cottage and destroyed all the uncle's belongings.
A police fire investigator later determined the blaze began with the direct ignition of combustible material on the porch, by means of something like a match or a lighter.
But the investigator found attempts to light other fires around the cottage.
Between 9.10am and 9.40am that same morning, Dover opened the bedroom window of a unit in King Street and set fire to the curtains.
The occupant was home at the time.
The fire significantly damaged the bedroom, burnt walls in the living room and left soot throughout the unit.
The unit was close by and looked similar to another unit his uncle had once lived in.
That same morning, Dover tried to set fire to a house in Wills Street, lighting three fires around and under the building.
About noon, Dover's cousin saw him in North Bendigo, yelling and holding a lighter in his hand.
His cousin said he heard Dover say, "Why would ya's think I would burn Grandma's house down?"
Dover was arrested that afternoon and in his possession were two lighters.
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The following day he made a mostly 'no comment' interview, but denied starting the fires.
He told police he had walked out of the bungalow about 10pm the night before the fires and got lost in the bush, where he remained at 6am the following morning.
In a victim impact statement read to the court, Dover's uncle said he felt anger, sadness and hurt over what had occurred.
He said he was very close to his nephew, who he considered more like a son.
"I couldn't believe he could do such a horrifying thing," he said.
He said his cat Holly was a big part of his life, and he had lost many irreplaceable items in the fire.
Dover's grandmother said the fire had destroyed precious family photographs and left her feeling unsafe in her own home.
She said she had trouble sleeping as she awoke during the night from worry that something terrible would happen.
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Dover's defence counsel Michael Reardon told the court his client had schizophrenia and had experienced significant mental health issues throughout his life.
The court heard a psychiatrist found Dover was experiencing "active psychosis" at the time.
Mr Reardon said Dover did not remember the offending, nor why he did it.
Dover did not intend to harm his uncle's cat, he said, and lost his own belongings in the cottage fire, which pointed to his "disordered state of mind" at the time.
Mr Reardon said his client was not receiving psychiatric care at the time.
He said that Dover's mental illness made incarceration more onerous for him than others, and the restrictive measures to protect against COVID-19 increased this burden.
Mr Reardon submitted Dover should receive a term of imprisonment, followed by a community corrections order.
He said his client pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and had expressed remorse.
Dover will be sentenced later this month.
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