Serial arsonist burnt down mother's house
Childhood trauma, coupled with rejection, were likely factors behind a female fire-starter's behaviour, including a decision to burn down her mother's home, a psychiatrist has said.
On Friday, Carol Tui Sommerville was jailed for three years and nine months after she pleaded guilty to charges connected to two fires she deliberately lit in Waitara, Taranaki last year.
It is understood Sommerville has been convicted 20 previous times between 1990-2012 for fire-setting type crimes.
On June 23, 2016, Sommerville had travelled from Auckland to Waitara and asked to stay at her mother's home on George St. It was the same home the defendant lived in as a child.
At the time, Sommerville's mother was in a rest home and her power of attorney was in the process of readying the property for sale so the defendant's request to stay was refused.
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Smarting from rejection, Sommerville went to the Queen St address of the power of attorney three days later. The woman and her husband were not home.
At 1am, Sommerville broke into the couple's motorhome which was parked outside the house and set it alight.
An explosion, popping sounds and banging alerted neighbours to the blaze which completely destroyed the $85,000 vehicle.
Less than 24 hours later, Sommerville went to her mother's house on George St in the early hours of the morning. The house had been unoccupied for some time and valuable property had already been removed.
After breaking into the house, she poured an accelerant in two of the bedrooms and then started the fire. By the time firefighters arrived, the property, valued at $192,000, was engulfed in flames.
The motorhome and house were both insured.
During a hearing in the New Plymouth District Court, Judge Garry Barkle referred to a psychiatric report which had recently been completed on the 55-year-old.
Despite her offending history, the report was the first comprehensive assessment completed on the serial arsonist.
Judge Barkle said the report outlined how Sommerville had suffered "significant" neglect and abuse as a child.
This had impacted on her emotional and psychological development and was tied to serious mental health issues she has grappled with in adult life, including a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder.
The judge said the psychiatrist had concluded these factors were an underlying reason to explain Sommerville's fire-setting behaviour.
He said Sommerville's mother had referred to the guilt she felt about her daughter's childhood experiences within the victim impact statement prepared for court.
The elderly woman acknowledged how "hard" Sommerville's life had been and that she felt sorry and somewhat responsible for what had happened.
The court also heard how Sommerville had been homeless for many years and often slept rough or in a tent.
In her submissions, Crown prosecutor Cherie Clarke outlined the aggravating factors in the offending, which included the unlawful entry into the motorhome and house, the extent of damage caused and Sommerville's premeditated plan to start the fires.
A minimum period of imprisonment was also sought by Clarke, but this was opposed by defence lawyer Paul Keegan, who said the parole board was in the best place to assess Sommerville's readiness for release.
He said there was a pattern in his client's life that she often reacted whenever she was abused, slighted or rejected and there was a need for long term therapeutic intervention.