$2m damage from fire lighter, court told

Court House-general1The diagnosed pyromanic who caused $2 million of damage when he burnt down Image Vault has spoken of his enjoyment of the beauty of fires.

Kyle Stuart John Tappin, 31, told a psychologist who interviewed him ahead of his Christchurch District Court sentencing that his offending was driven by his “lust for watching fires”.

He had been lighting fires since the age of seven or eight, when he was bored or upset, Tappin said.

He was normally drunk when he set fires, and he liked to watch from a distance where he was unlikely to be detected. He watched the Image Vault fire on November 26 from the shadows across Ferry Road.

He gave a clear and detailed account to the psychologist of the behaviour that underpinned his offending – his enjoyment of the beauty of fires.

He was seen as an ideal and motivated candidate for psychological intervention, but Judge Gary MacAskill said: “Unless you can make a change, further fire lighting is inevitable.”

He jailed Tappin for four years three months, and ordered him to pay reparations to Image Vault – a contribution to part of the losses that were not insured – of $10,000, after he is released from prison and gets work.

The building owners and the business were insured but the total losses were more than $2 million, and the insurance did not cover everything.

Image Vault’s owner, Nicola Church, read a powerful victim impact statement and when she had finished she hugged Tappin’s mother who was sitting in court. She explained later that she had never met the mother.

“She’s a victim, too,” said Miss Church. “There are no winners, really.” She had not come to court for a pound of flesh from Tappin. “Ultimately I just hope he gets the help he needs and can come back into society and lead a full life.”

She spoke of the impact of the fire on the business, its suppliers, customers, staff, and her family. It had been horrendous and had badly affected her partner. “Part of what we were as individuals and as a couple died that day.”

Defence counsel Andrew McKenzie said the fire had not targeted the business but had been a random arson. Tappin had said he welcomed being caught because it would mean he got the help he needed for his sickness. He was someone who was capable of change.

Judge MacAskill said the fire had had a serious impact. “Public protection is important in this case, because of the risk you present,” he told Tappin. He noted that he now had some insight into his offending.

The court was told that Tappin tried to set fire to paper in a wheelie bin but became angry when it would not catch alight. He then pushed a burning piece of paper through a gap in the business’ front door, setting light to curtains and destroying the building.


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