Teenager jailed for school arson attack

Last updated 05:00 15/02/2014

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An Invercargill teenager convicted of a $3.2 million arson attack at James Hargest College has been jailed for more than three years, but the school principal says the sentence gives him no satisfaction.

Duncan Robert Roderick McRae, 19, appeared before Judge Michael Turner for sentence yesterday in the Invercargill District Court after he admitted two charges of arson and two of burglary on October 7, 2012, and January 3, 2013.

Judge Turner sentenced McRae, 18 at the time of the offending, to three years and six months' jail. In May last year, his co-offender Campbell Leaf was sentenced to three years and four months' jail.

Judge Turner said McRae and Leaf had unlawfully entered the school twice and set items on fire.

In October, 2012, they broke into the school by climbing a 2-metrefence, removed tools, and set two fires causing $500 damage. The fires burnt out, he said.

Three months later the pair broke into the school after drinking alcohol and smoking legal highs. They gathered cardboard and off-cuts, placed them on the floor in a C-block classroom and set the 1m-high pile on fire, Judge Turner said.

The fire caused about $3.2m of damage.

"Your actions have caused considerable harm both financially and emotionally."

When spoken to by police, McRae admitted his involvement but could offer no explanation.

He initially pleaded guilty but sought to vacate it for a not-guilty plea, but that was not granted. He wanted to change plea because he later said he was not there at the time of the offending and not involved.

Judge Turner did not order reparation because, he said, it was unrealistic.

James Hargest College principal Andy Wood said he doubted any sentence would have made him feel better, given the huge disruption and cost the crime caused.

"The replacement building will be opened shortly after Easter, 16 months after the fire. That's a very long time for our school to be disrupted."

The damage was to a block containing foods and digital technology classes, with students having to travel daily in buses for lessons at another site and having to learn in makeshift premises around the school for the past year. Maintenance and refurbishment work had also been put on hold as a result of the cost.

"The consequences of that will go on for years."

However, the sentencing brought a sense of closure for the school, as would the opening of the new building after Easter, Mr Wood said.

When asked whether he wanted to meet the culprits, he said he saw no point, because they had never approached the school expressing remorse.

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"If they didn't approach us on their own initiative, it wouldn't be very meaningful," he said.

- The Southland Times

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