Fire charges against boy, 12, dropped

CHARGES against a 12-year-old boy over a major Wyong fire that closed the F3 were dismissed yesterday after a court heard he did not understand the seriousness of lighting a fire.

The boy  walked from Wyong Local Court on Tuesday after a short hearing was told he had to know an act was ‘‘seriously or criminally wrong, as opposed to naughty or mischievous’’.

But there were also ‘‘grave, grave concerns’’ about whether the boy lit the fire on September 9 last year after allegations against a 17-year-old who had not been charged, Wyong Children’s Court magistrate Estelle Hawdon said.

Despite a ‘‘wonderful forensic investigation’’ by police, ‘‘it doesn’t tell me who lit the fires’’, Ms Hawdon said.

The 12-year-old was charged after a fire at Watanobbi with many ignition points ran out of control on September 9, threatened properties, closed the F3 for four hours and took 80 firefighters to contain.

More than 80 hectares of bush were destroyed. Damage was assessed at $200,000.

Police alleged the boy stole plumber’s glue from the 17-year-old’s house and used it to light the fires.

But the court heard that the only evidence the boy lit the fires was in a statement made by the 17-year-old.

The 12-year-old accused boy did not participate in an interview with police, had no criminal history and was not known to police.

The court heard he had not made any admissions to police.

Police alleged a number of people were present at the time of the fire, but witnesses only referred to ‘‘unidentified children’’.

A Facebook photo of the smiling boy standing in a burnt-out area and without any comment was not proof, the court heard.

Children’s court solicitor Elizabeth Moran said the Facebook post could have pointed to further evidence the boy did not understand the criminal nature of lighting fires.

Ms Hawdon noted that the fire ‘‘was a terrible event, there is no doubt about that’’.

‘‘Homes were put at risk and possibly lives were put at risk,’’ she said.

‘‘However, as in all criminal cases, the prosecution has to prove its case to the criminal standard, and I’m not sure to any standard at all that it was this young person who lit the fires.

‘‘That’s not to say I don’t abhor the starting of the fires,’’ Ms Hawdon said.

NO PROOF: The fire at Watanobbi.

NO PROOF: The fire at Watanobbi.