Firelighter ‘enjoyed’ her offending

A firelighter’s comment that she enjoyed her offending was described as “alarming” by her lawyer before the woman was jailed at a Christchurch District Court sentencing.

Repeat arsonist Angela Maree McDonald, 37, cried in the dock as the judge discussed her mental health condition – diagnosed as schizo-affective disorder – before sending her to prison for two years.

The prison term will mean that a comprehensive management plan can be prepared for her before she is released, with a current assessment that her risk of further firelighting is high.

McDonald has a 1998 conviction for the arson of a haybarn, and previous convictions for wilful damage.

In November, McDonald admitted a charge of arson for lighting a fire on the bed of a fellow patient at the Seager Clinic, at Princess Margaret Hospital, while she was out of her room on October 10.

The fire damaged the woman’s bed, bedside cabinet, and possessions. There was also smoke and water damage from the sprinklers. Damage totalled $6553, but no-one was hurt.

Defence counsel Tony Garrett said the potential consequences were extreme because there were people with disabilities in the clinic.

He said McDonald offended when she felt aggrieved or slighted. It was an anger management issue, but her gross over-reaction which was a real concern. Some of McDonald’s replies when questioned were alarming, he said. She had expressed enjoying her offending.

The pre-sentence report includes the probation officer’s assessment that McDonald was a low risk of further general offending but the risk of further firelighting was high.

Judge Garland said sentencing of offenders with mental health issues was a “vexed issue”, but health assessors said McDonald did not show symptoms of a current mental illness and there did not appear to be a link between her mental health and the arson offending.

She had a long history of contact with mental health services and was assessed as having an under-lying schizo-affective disorder. She had a “limited ability to emotionally self-regulate”, and a tendency to resort to damaging property, threatening behaviour, or fire setting. A psychologist said she needed to take responsibility for her behaviour.

The judge imposed a two-year jail term and said home detention would not be considered. He made no reparation order because there was no ability to pay it.