Jail term for spree of lighting fires

Tim EdmundsThe Advertiser

A 45-year-old man accused of deliberately lighting multiple fires along Albany Highway earlier this year has been jailed for 12 months.

John Barry Forsey was sentenced in Albany District Court yesterday after admitting to eight counts of wilfully lighting a fire likely to injure or damage, which stemmed from a “manic” relapse of his bipolar disorder.

The court heard Forsey ignited the fires deliberately by discarding lit cigarettes into dry grass close to Albany Highway on a 207km stretch from Crossman to Cranbrook in a three-and-a-half hour period on February 8.

The bushfires, which ranged in size from 100sqm to up to 4ha, damaged farmland and 1.5km of fencing was destroyed at one property. On each occasion, Forsey stopped his car on a road off the highway, lit the fires and took off quickly.

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He was eventually arrested in Mt Barker after crashing into a street sign during a stint of erratic driving, including flashing his lights at oncoming cars. Judge Christopher Stevenson noted the fires could have been much worse without the swift and professional response from five volunteer bushfire brigades, who were forced to leave their jobs to fight the fires on a warm and windy day.

He said there was a causal link between Forsey’s mental health issues and his non-compliance with his medication regimen, meaning there was a need for personal deterrence.

“I am satisfied that if you were on your medication and taken responsibility for your mental health, you would not have committed these offences,” he said.

The court heard the worst fears of the affected farmers were realised when fires were lit on their properties, jeopardising their livelihoods and everything they had worked for.

Judge Stevenson said the physical damage could have been far worse but the psychological damage to victims and the potential to destroy farms was there.

He noted Forsey had complied with his medication requirements since and he had not reoffended while on bail.

Defence counsel Graeme Payne said his client was “very remorseful” and wanted to apologise to the victims and emergency services.

Forsey was sentenced to between six and 12 months jail for each of the eight charges, to be served concurrently, with the longest sentence of 12 months backdated to October 14 to take into account the 44 days he spent in custody.

He was also ordered to pay compensation of $3239 to the Shire of Williams.

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