Evan Francis Barnes pleads guilty to setting fire to ex-partner's home

Newcastle courthouse.
Newcastle courthouse.

A UNIVERSITY of Newcastle chemistry student who set fire to his former partner’s home at Waratah told a friend that “I could easily burn the house down and leave no trace because I am a chemist”. 

Evan Francis Barnes, 32, of Mayfield, sent Facebook messages to at least three friends in the hours after his ex-partner’s Ada Street home was severely damaged by fire on May 14, 2017, telling them: “I set my house on fire. Just kidding. There does seem to be something burning near my house, though. Big plume of smoke. I promised her I would never do that.”

Barnes also told one person: “I have several alibis” and “now I can actually focus on study”.

When asked why he had lit the fire, Barnes replied: “Because I could. And I needed an end to the stress. I’m so chill now.”

Barnes, who remains on conditional bail, appeared in Newcastle Local Court on Wednesday where he pleaded guilty to two counts of intentionally or recklessly damaging property by fire, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.

He also pleaded guilty to a number of drug and weapon offences, after police found knives strapped to his right hip and right ankle when they arrested him at the University of Newcastle campus.

Barnes and the victim had been in a relationship for about seven months before they separated due to Barnes’s “controlling, jealous and manipulative behaviour”, according to a statement of facts, which the court heard was not yet agreed between the parties.

The victim was granted an interim apprehended domestic violence order (ADVO) against Barnes due to Barnes’ concerning behaviour, which included making threats about physically harming the victim with chemicals. 

“I told her I had a glass of sodium hydroxide solution to throw in the face of the next c--- who opened the door,” Barnes wrote to one person about the victim. 

The victim had been living elsewhere to avoid coming into contact with Barnes, but on May 10 returned to the home to check her belongings and found the place had been trashed.

Then, in the early hours of May 14, Barnes deliberately lit a fire in the victim’s bedroom; leaving an iron switched on and turned to “high” siting up against a mattress with a paper in front of the ironing plate.

He then turned the stove on “high” and left behind a cigarette butt on the back steps. The fire caused $150,000 worth of damage.