It took a WA Supreme Court jury just 90 minutes to acquit a Bunbury man charged with wilfully and unlawfully damaging a dwelling despite his admissions that he started a fire that destroyed a home after taking methampethamines.
A two-day Supreme Court trial began on Monday to determine whether Anthony Paul Hume, 23, meant to destroy 2 Bickerton Place, East Bunbury on July 13, 2016.
Mr Hume’s defence lawyer Michelle Huber agreed from the start that the home was destroyed by fire and that her client accepted his actions caused the house to burn down. The issue was whether Mr Hume had wilfully tried to destroy the home or was aware his actions would likely cause significant damage.
Taking the stand on Tuesday morning, Mr Hume said he had visited Bunbury Police Station on the morning of the fire to report, a condition of his bail on other charges, and was feeling down when he returned home around 11am.
Mr Hume had been invited to stay at the rental property four days before the fire and argued with his uncle Dustin Riley shortly after returning to the property on July 13.
“I was feeling depressed so I had a bit of drugs – I thought it would take the pain away,” Mr Hume told the court.
“I had a bad shot and I heard voices saying ‘light the house on fire or I’ll hang you’.”
Mr Hume admitted taking a jerry can from the backyard and spilling a small amount of petrol on the kitchen floor.
Mr Riley told the court at this point he told Mr Hume to leave the home and locked him outside.
“I was just watching TV and he wouldn’t listen to me so I forced him out of the house and we argued,” Mr Riley said. “ I locked him outside but he broke in through the back door.”
"He kept saying the house was evil, had demons in it and it had to be burnt down.”
Mr Riley said his mobile phone was broken so he briefly left the house to ask his neighbours for help. When he returned Mr Hume had opened the door of the potbelly wood fire in the lounge room and had put bath towels inside it.
When asked why he had done this, Mr Hume told the court he did not mean to burn the home down, rather, he was trying to smoke the demons out of the house.
He said rather than cause a lot of smoke, the towels increased the size of the fire so he tried to smother it with a floor rug. When the fire grew further and spread to the couch, he “panicked wickedly” and “took off running”.
Under cross examination, state prosecutor Mark Hunter asked Mr Hume what he knew of Aboriginal smoking ceremonies.
“It’s sort of a ritual but I don’t know much about it,” Mr Hume said. “I just wanted to create lots of smoke to remove the spirits.”
Mr Hunter also put it to Mr Hume that he made no attempt to put the fire out as it became bigger.
“No, I used a cushion to try and stop the couch from burning but it caught fire too so I had to run away,” Mr Hume said.
Department of Fire and Emergency Services crews took an hour to extinguish the blaze with South West detectives arresting Mr Hume at an address on Picton Road, East Bunbury just after 5pm.
A forensic examination of Mr Hume’s hands and charred remains from inside the lounge room both returned negative results for ignitable fluids, such as petrol.
Arson squad officers traveled from Perth that afternoon to investigate whether the fire was suspicious.
The court was shown photographs taken by the arson squad which highlighted the extent of the internal damage along with photographs taken by the Bunbury Mail showing firefighters working to extinguish the blaze.
Detective senior constable Sean Busby, a qualified fire investigator, told the trial his examination made it clear the fire started inside the lounge room but flashover meant it was too hard to determine the exact ignition source.
“The flashover stage of a fire is around 600 degrees Celsius, where it is hot enough for objects in the room to ignite without necessarily coming into contact with a direct source of ignition,” he said.
“The intense and prolonged exposure to fire had consumed the ceilings and the walls in the lounge room while the depth of char was greatest on the underside of the roof’s structural beams in that same space.”
In making her closing statement to the court, Ms Huber said just because the voices told Mr Hume that he should burn the house down, doesn’t mean that was what he then tried to do.
“He was obviously not in a good way at the time and it wasn’t a clever choice,” she said. “But he has been honest with you today and admitted things that were unpleasant to admit.”
Judge Joseph McGrath entered a verdict of acquittal on Tuesday afternoon following the jury’s decision.