Lodge caretaker sentenced over arson

Last updated 16:55 10/04/2014
Motu Karaka Kaikoura Island
Geoff Woodhouse/DOC

LOST RESORT: Remains of the lodge on Kaikoura Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf.

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An environmentalist who burned down a lodge on a pristine conservation island has avoided a jail term.

John Michael Scarlett, known as Will, was sentenced in the Auckland District Court today to nine months' home detention after previously admitting a charge of arson.

The offending was particularly shocking to the Motu Kaikoura Trust - which runs conservation efforts on Kaikoura Island in the Hauraki Gulf - because Scarlett, 66, had been the caretaker there for seven years.

The fire on October 7 burned down the 150 square metre structure known as "The Lost Resort", which had been used as a recreation and kitchen area by hundreds of people, including the late yachting hero Sir Peter Blake.

Trust chairman Harry Doig read his victim impact statement in court and spoke of the huge financial setback volunteers faced and of the loss of time and effort.

He also spoke of "veiled threats" by Scarlett to repeat the act, but the arsonist's lawyer, Greg Morison, was quick to deny that.

"He has always made it clear if he had his time again he wouldn't have acted in as radical manner as he did," Morison said.

Thirteen months after losing his job as caretaker, Scarlett left his home on Great Barrier Island with a five-litre can of diesel and made the short journey across the water to Kaikoura Island.

After checking no-one was there, he pulled mattresses and other material into the middle of the biggest building on the island and doused them in the fuel.

Morison told the court his client had soaked the surrounding area in water and waited until the fire was out before he left because he had wanted to protect the native bush.

Within hours of committing the crime, Scarlett returned to his home and phoned the local constable to tell her what he had done.

He was interviewed and made a full confession.

"In explanation the defendant stated he was frustrated at not being listened to and that he wanted to make a statement," court documents say.

Morison said the catalyst had been the trust allowing a commercial fishing competition to take place around the island; something Scarlett was opposed to.

Judge Ema Aitken said it was a rare case when the premeditative elements of the crime were both an aggravating and mitigating factor.

"It was a single act of rash, foolish behaviour with a failure to appreciate you were committing such a serious criminal offence," she said.

Though the trust was seeking reparation of $286,580, the judge said Scarlett had no assets and was on a pension, therefore it would be unrealistic for him to pay the figure back.

Instead, Judge Aitken imposed the sentence of home detention, which he will serve at a Warkworth address.

Doig vowed the trust would continue to pursue its goals of restoring Kaikoura Island's natural environment without pests and making it available to the public to enjoy its beauty.

The 564-hectare island surrounded by rugged cliffs had been owned by a US syndicate before being bought by the Crown in 2005.

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- Fairfax Media

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