The fire caused $60,000 damage and destroyed musical
A Dunedin man has been jailed for 33 months for setting
fire to a student boarding house where he was living and
employed as a casual caretaker.
Alan Graham Brown (54) admitted lighting a fire in a bedroom
of the 19th-century one-time stately home in Pitt St last
May, causing almost $60,000 damage to the building and
costing one of the occupants more than $6000 in the loss of
uninsured property, including musical instruments, a laptop
and irreplaceable music composition notes.
Sentencing Brown in the Dunedin District Court yesterday,
Judge Michael Crosbie said the facts of the case were a
reminder to landlords and students, in particular, of the
immeasurable value of fire and smoke alarms. He had no doubt
that, in the particular case, the alarms had saved lives.
Brown pleaded guilty before trial on one charge of
intentionally damaging the house by fire on May 8 last year.
He and an associate, Peter Curran, lived on the first floor
of the wood and brick house, while seven students occupied
the ground floor rooms and shared a kitchen, lounge and
On the evening of May 8, the students were alerted to the
beeping of a smoke alarm. They initially thought the noise
was from a television programme they were watching.
But when they went into the hallway they saw a rear bedroom
was ablaze. They abandoned thoughts of trying to put out the
fire, called the Fire Service and set about getting everyone
out of the building. Brown and Mr Curran were both
intoxicated and had only just gone to bed after a heavy
drinking session. The students had to force the door to Mr
Curran's room, to get him out and, once outside, he ran back
in to rescue the house kittens.
He was overcome with heat and smoke and had to be rescued
from the first floor but he and the kittens suffered no
lasting effects. The firefighters extinguished the fire only
minutes before it would have taken hold of the entire
building. They told police they believed the blaze was
Brown was interviewed 10 days later and denied any knowledge
of the fire's origin but, about two weeks later, he confessed
he had lit it. He said he had been struggling with mental
health issues and wanted to seek help, something he said he
should have done 20 years ago.
At sentencing yesterday, John Westgate said Brown appeared
motivated to make changes. He had used his time productively
in prison and had re-evaluated his life. But Mr Westgate said
it was probably unrealistic to order reparation.
Judge Crosbie told Brown it was ''naive'' for him to say he
wanted to come out of prison and get on with his life.
With five pages of criminal convictions, three now for arson,
and the majority involving alcohol, he must have a serious
His actions had caused huge loss to the young man whose
property was not insured and the owner of the house was
shocked when she saw the results of the fire. She was also
shocked because Brown had appeared substantial and polite and
she was very distressed at damage caused to precious personal
effects in the house.
The judge sentenced Brown to two years and nine months' jail
and, while ordering reparation would be akin to ''writing on
water'', he said Brown should have to pay something. He
directed payment of $6000 reparation to the university
student who lost everything and a $15,000 contribution to the
costs of the insurers.