Arsonist jailed for fires at housing complex

ANNE CLARKSON
Last updated 12:43 04/10/2013

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A woman with a long history of arson who set a fire at a housing complex for patients with mental disabilities has been sentenced to three years in prison.

The fire had been started by Marie Joy Neal, who lived in one of the small residential flats owned by the Housing New Zealand and used to house residents with mental disabilities.

The residents themselves helped put out one of the fires started by Neal.

Neal has a history of repeatedly setting fires. At her Christchurch District Court sentencing on two more arson charges, she was sentenced to three years in prison with a minimum term of 18 months.

Defence counsel Serina Bailey said Neal had had shocking difficulties in her life.

Neal told her that she set the fires because she was running out of parole time and would not see her probation officer again.

Judge Gary MacAskill said Neal set fire to a council rubbish bin next to one of the flats on May 4. The sprinkler system put the fire out, but the bins were extensively melted and the downpipes badly damaged.

On May 24 she set fire to an old mattress in a car port. The night supervisor heard the alarm and got people out of their units. The mattress was burning out of control and the flames were touching the roof of the car port. The other patients helped put the fire out.

He said it was potentially a very serious fire where people could have been badly hurt or killed.

Neal has 10 previous convictions for setting fire to property, 10 other arsons, 11 for setting off false fire alarms, plus other convictions, he said. She started lighting fires when she was 10 years old.

Neal was at high risk of harm to others, and at moderate-to-high risk of further offending, and had a severe borderline personality disorder.

Judge MacAskill said she was very remorseful, but could not pay reparation for the damage caused.

He sentenced her to prison for three years and added the minimum term to protect the community.

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- The Press

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