Jury clears thief of arson after smash sparks $350,000 fire

A MAN who stole a Nissan Micra and rammed it through a big warehouse roller door at a Wacol business has been found not guilty of deliberately lighting the subsequent fire that caused $350,000 in losses.

A jury heard the small car was left wedged beneath the crumpled metal door after thief Scott Owens crashed before he fled in a ute that he stole from the warehouse.

The Micra caught fire half an hour after he was seen on CCTV to leave,  with the resulting smoke and soot damage and disruption to business trade caused its owners the major financial loss.

Owens was charged with committing arson at Viking Industrial, 17 Tile St, Wacol on February 5, 2018.

In a Crown trial before Ipswich District Court, Owens strongly denied that he deliberately lit the fire.

After hearing two days of forensic evidence given by a police scientific fire investigator, the Ipswich jury found Owens not guilty.

At the start of his trial, Scott Anthony Owens, 25, entered pleas of guilty to three other charges, including two counts of unlawful use of a motor vehicle; and entering premises at Wacol to steal.

He admitted stealing the Nissan Micra at Manly, crashing it into the roller door, stealing from inside the business, then stealing and driving away in a Toyota Hilux.

Owens was arrested at 10pm on the night of the fire with the stolen Hilux.

The arson trial heard there were two likely scenarios; that the impact of the car crashing into the roller doors caused the fire, or as the Crown prosecution alleged, it was lit by a human source.

Senior Sergeant Wayne Rasmussen examined the fire scene and was the Crown's expert witness.

In his evidence he said he could not definitively pinpoint arson. While finding that the fire burnt longer, or with more intensity, in the driver's foot well, Snr Sgt Rasmussen said it was "not an absolute" that the fire started there.

And could not exclude that the impact damage caused the subsequent fire.

He gave detailed evidence on oxidisation and charring, and his interpretation of fire patterns examined in the burnt out shell of the Micra - details used to try and trace the aggression and intensity of the fire, to 'reverse-engineer it' back to its likely source.

After the jury returned its verdict, Judge Dennis Lynch QC sentenced Owens on the three charges that he pleaded guilty to, along with another 30 lesser offences.

This included charges of fraud, three counts of unlawful use of motor vehicles, attempting to enter a dwelling to steal, entering premises by break, entering premises with intent, nine counts of stealing, drug possession, and driving unlicensed.

In one offence Owens tried to steal thousands of dollars worth of tools from Bunnings.

Crown prosecutor Cameron Wilkins said Owens had already spent 368 days in custody and sought a jail term of 3 1/2 years.

Defence barrister Mitchell Rawlings said Owens was aged four when his father died in a pub brawl, and outlined his life's difficulties.

Judge Lynch and Mr Rawlings disclosed how in one offence Owens posed as a Bunnings employee and attempted to steal tools valued at nearly $3000.

"He apologises to the people he stole from. Did not intend to do them harm," Mr Rawlings said.

"It was a survival mechanism."

Judge Lynch said if he hadn't stolen the Micra and rammed it through the roller door then the damages and losses to the business would not have occurred.

 "The significant damage done was a consequence of your conduct in committing these offences," said Judge Lynch.

Owens was sentenced to three years jail but with the time already spent in jail was given immediate parole with strict supervision. He was disqualified from driving for six months.