September 14, 2009

Plants targeted in early morning arsons, says crown

The crown alleges an arsonist phoned in his own handiwork and stayed to watch the firefighters put out the blaze.

The defence says Samuel Gerald Mort lit nothing and the police have arrested the wrong man.

Mort, a 30-year-old who lives near Greymouth, pleaded not guilty to three arson charges when his two-day trial began in the Christchurch District Court today.

The crown says he targeted cabbage trees, tussock, bamboo, and a cemetery shed in the Christchurch suburbs of Linwood and Bromley one night in January.

All of the items damaged in the early morning of January 18 belonged to the Christchurch City Council.

Crown prosecutor Marcus Zintl said five fires were lit in and around Cutler Park on the corner of Clydesdale and Shetland streets, where cabbage trees, tussock, and a flax bush were damaged.

These were lit from 1.43am to 4.16am, and the sixth was lit at 4.37am at Bromley Cemetery, damaging a shed and bamboo plant.

At the scene of the fifth fire, the crown alleges Mort used his cellphone at 4.18am to make a 111 call and stayed while the firefighters put out the fire.

About 4.30am, a witness saw a man getting over a fence from Bromley Cemetery and Mort has admitted this was probably him.

A policeman saw him near the Bromley Community Centre and searched him after noticing a knife in his pocket. Mort had a lighter in the pocket of his hoodie.

While he was being spoken to, a police dog and handler arrived. Mort had been tracked there from the scene of the last fire.

His cellphone showed that he had made the 111 call.

Mort gave statements to the police denying he had lit any of the fires. He said he got lost while walking from Pages Road, and for part of the time he was at a nearby service station getting a cigarette.

Mr Zintl said the security camera showed he was there from 4.01am to 4.04am. The fourth fire was lit at 3.45am, and the fifth at 4.16am.

The trial is before Judge Raoul Neave and a jury. Barnaby Hawes and Mr Zintl appear for the crown; Bridget Ayrey appears for Mort.