Jail term for fire-lighter

Wheelie binsA 49-year-old man with bipolar disorder was sentenced to three years five months prison for lighting five fires in July.

John Ngarimu Rattray had also served prison time in 2008 for the same type of offending and this time was sentenced on two charges of setting fire to property that could endanger life, possession of a knife, wilful damage, and three charges of arson.

Defence counsel Elizabeth Bulger said when Rattray failed to take his medication for his bipolar affective disorder “the wheels fell off”, and there came a point where there was no recovery, and when that happened he lit fires.

His deterioration was quick and irretrievable and he needed more stability and to be able to recognise the signs that things were going bad.

She said Rattray did not want to go back to prison, and when he was good he was a perfectly normal person to talk to.

She said reparation was unrealistic, and asked the judge not to sentence Rattray to too long a prison sentence where all hope of rehabilitation and a stable life was beyond his reach. He needed some light at the end of the tunnel.

Judge Jane Farish said Rattray had recognised mental health issues, and his offending occurred when he was mentally unwell.

On July 5, in the flat where he was living with four other people, he put items on the stove and turned all the elements on.

A flatmate smelt the burning and turned the elements off, but Rattray returned and turned them on again then left the flat.

The police were called and found Rattray with a vegetable knife on him and arrested him.

He was admitted to Hillmorton Hospital under a compulsory treatment order but absconded from there and started drinking alcohol.

Later in July he set fire to a wheelie bin at a dairy on Selwyn Street, which caused damage to the stock inside.

He set fire to a garage between two properties that were occupied, and after leaving there he set fire to two more council rubbish bins.

Judge Farish said now that Rattray had done some courses in prison and was on his medication he had improved dramatically.

The victim impact report from the dairy said that the dairy owner was reliant on the income, and after the earthquakes was pleased to re-establish the dairy. The impact of the fire was significant, Judge Farish said.

The damage overall was worth about $31,000 and she noted that he could not pay any reparation.

She sentenced him to prison, and told him that while in custody he should undertake the drug and alcohol treatment programme, and upon release he needed a comprehensive support team around him, with stable accommodation and employment.

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