Court upholds arson conviction

AIMEE GULLIVER
Last updated 10:58 24/06/2014
Colin Hayball
FIREBUG: Forest fires started by Colin Hayball near Tapawera had the potential to damage up to $20 million worth of property.

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An arsonist who set a series of forest fires in a way likely to trap firefighters has had his appeal dismissed.

Colin Geoffrey Hayball, 73, was convicted of five counts of arson for setting a total of 36 fires in three different locations near Tapawera on February 4, March 10 and April 6 last year.

The Court of Appeal noted the way the fires were set was "troubling", as some devices placed in the forest area were set in such a way that if all the fires successfully ignited, firefighters attending would inevitably have become trapped.

Hayball denied having set the fires, and appealed his conviction on the basis the jury verdict was unreasonable having regard to the evidence.

Hayball, representing himself at the Court of Appeal, said Justice France's summing up in the High Court did not make it clear there was no direct evidence linking him to the fires.

He said the judge should have directed the jury that it was unsafe to convict.

The Court of Appeal rejected Hayball's submissions, and said there was no basis for concern about the safety of the verdict, and concluded the trial had been fair.

Hayball also appealed against the sentence imposed by Justice France, and said the sentence of seven years imprisonment was too high because the prosecution had not met the requirements of the law.

In a written submission, Hayball also said the sentence was out of step with "sentencing passed down to recidivist ethnic minorities who would appear to be receiving more leniency from the court".

The court accepted the starting point of seven years imprisonment was well open in this case, based on the numerous serious factors in relation to the fires, and in comparison with other sentences for multiple arsons.

He had been sentenced to a further six months for unlawfully possessing military-style semi-automatic rifles and 16,000 rounds of ammunition, discovered when the search warrant was executed.

Hayball's appeal against sentence was also dismissed.

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