Cycling coppers caught firebug

All of the victims of Michael Edward Brittenden’s spree of wheelie bin blazes in Burnside will be paid for the $68,326 damage he did before he was caught by two bobbies-on-bikes.

The 39-year-old has taken out a loan on a property, and on his parent’s property to get the money as a bank cheque.

He handed the cheque to a Christchurch District Court staff member as he stood in the dock to plead guilty to 22 charges today.

Brittenden, a Burnside sales assistant, had earlier denied the charges but changed to guilty pleas today, forestalling the trial process.

Judge Stephen O’Driscoll remanded him on continued bail for sentencing on April 18. He ordered a pre-sentence report which will assess Brittenden’s suitability for home detention, and asked that the case be considered for a restorative justice meeting between him and the victims.

Brittenden admitted 20 charges of damaging wheelie bins by fire with reckless disregard for the safety of named householders, unlawful possession of .22 ammunition, and possession of cannabis.

The blazes took place within a 2km radius centred around Westburn Terrace, Burnside, from January 1, 2017, to July 15, 2017. The arsons involved wheelie bins set on fire against fences, hedges, and houses, which were damaged.

In one fire, smoke filled the house where the owners were asleep. Passers-by or firemen sometimes alerted the occupants.

Crown prosecutor Chris White said Brittenden lived in the area, and some of the addresses targeted were his immediate neighbours.

The police placed cameras as part of their investigation into the fires and eventually caught his activities on video.

Mr White said: “As part of the investigation, police placed two plain-clothed constables on push bikes in the Westburn Terrace and surrounding areas.

“They located Brittenden on Westburn Terrace a short distance from a fire (at a property in Memorial Avenue at 12.30am on July 15) and followed him back to his address.

“The defendant was acting suspiciously. Once he returned to the vicinity of his property, his behaviour indicated he was trying to evade being detected.

“Once on his property, he immediately changed his clothing and was apprehended by police and subsequently arrested.”

When police searched the property they found 70g of cannabis under his bed, and 22 .22 calibre bullets. Brittenden does not have a firearms licence.

He declined to make a statement. He has never appeared before the court.

Kerry Cook appeared as defence counsel.



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