Jail for teen who set fire to partygoer

MARTY SHARPE
Last updated 05:00 24/11/2012
POURED PETROL: Matt-Dillion Shannon.
Fairfax NZ
SENTENCED: Matt-Dillion Shannon.

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A teenager who poured petrol over another boy and set him alight at a birthday party has been given a hefty discount to his prison sentence after he helped police identify three friends who held the boy down.

Matt-Dillion Shannon was celebrating his 17th birthday at his home in Hastings in August last year. Shortly after midnight, he poured petrol over a 16-year-old and set him alight with a cigarette lighter as three others held him down.

Shannon, now 18, claimed to have been copying a stunt he had seen on a Jackass movie.

The victim suffered severe burns to his neck, back and face. He stripped off his burning T-shirt and rode his bicycle home before being taken to hospital and the intensive care unit.

Shannon was sentenced yesterday to three years in prison after being convicted of causing grievous bodily harm with intent.

The maximum sentence for the conviction is 14 years. However, Justice Christopher Allan set Shannon's starting point at 7 years, and deducted two years for his youth and 2 years for helping police identify his alleged co-offenders and promising to give evidence in court if necessary.

He has been in prison since his trial in September.

A few weeks after being arrested, Shannon made a voluntary statement to police in which he identified those who held the victim down.

"The court is told charges have been laid [against the three] and you have provided a signed written undertaking to police which confirms your continued willingness to give evidence," Justice Allan said in the High Court at Napier.

Information before the court suggested that, without Shannon's help, police would not have been able to identify the alleged co-offenders.

Justice Allan said Shannon's claim at his trial that he thought the victim could "roll away" and put the fire out was "unacceptable", because he knew his friends were holding the victim down.

"The reasons for this offending can be given in one word: alcohol."

Only one out of more than 50 people at the party attempted to help the injured boy. The others "treated the whole incident as something of a joke" and laughed at the victim's plight, Justice Allan said.

The victim's physical injuries were still not completely healed and the attack "has left him mentally fragile, distressed and at times simply unable to cope".

"He cannot get his head around the attack. Why, when he was among friends, was he singled out for humiliation and a terrible ordeal that was greeted with merriment by those around him?

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"He does not want to be known as ‘the dude who got set on fire'."

The victim required continuing counselling and specialist attention, Justice Allan said. His mother and younger sister had also had to deal with his suffering and "remarkably the court has been told she [the sister] has been bullied because her brother was set alight".

It might be thought the victim's family would be treated with kindness and sympathy after the ordeal, "yet it appears [the victim] and his sister have been picked upon simply because they have been victims".

"If that is true, then it reflects very poorly on this community."

Neither the victim's family nor Shannon's family wished to comment.

Contact Marty Sharpe
Hawke's Bay reporter
Email: marty.sharpe@dompost.co.nz

- The Dominion Post

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