By Rob Kidd
An intellectually disabled man who caused nearly $200,000 of damage in three arsons was a sad indictment on the country's social-service capacity, a judge told the Dunedin District Court yesterday.
Glenn Michie, 41, was jailed for two years and two months after pleading guilty to three counts of arson.
The most devastating fire gutted Stuart St's Di Lusso bar on the night of November 30 last year. Only the quick response by firefighters saved the building.
One of Michie's family members, who did not want to be named, said there was no doubt why it happened.
"The system has failed Glenn," she said.
Defence counsel Judith Ablett-Kerr QC said Michie was left alone when he should have been under care, and Judge Kevin Phillips agreed.
"This case brings starkly into focus the difficulties people have who have major disabilities," he said.
Michie should have the support he needed available to him in the community, the judge said.
For some years, he did. Under the umbrella of the Community Care Trust, the defendant received 40 hours of support.
The trust helped him run a wood-splitting business and he was taken to the library to pursue other interests.
However, over the months leading up to the fires, Michie's support had dropped to about 10 hours a week.
On November 30, a care worker left him wood-splitting alone and, said Judge Phillips, he "just walked off".
Michie went home, called the trust and was told no one could come to his house. He was told to go to the library but once there he became frustrated he could not use the computers and left "upset and frustrated".
Michie wandered to the Octagon, managed to talk himself into a couple of free drinks but before long he was back on the street "tired, hungry and cold", the judge said.
First he walked to a flat on Cargill St and, after an argument with a woman there, he set fire to an upholstered chair on the porch.
One of the occupants woke up and put out the flames before they damaged the house.
Meanwhile, Michie continued to Cumberland St.
He took two newspapers from an honesty box, screwed them into balls, slipped them under a parked car and lit them.
"The smoke and flames of the fire engulfed the undercarriage of the vehicle, causing extensive heat and smoke damage," a police summary said.
While firefighters were dealing with the car fire, Michie walked the short distance to Di Lusso.
He took cushions from an outdoor seating area and piled them on top of newspaper, which he set alight.
Police found Michie walking away carrying the remaining pieces of paper.
In a videotaped interview with officers, he gave a meandering and contradictory version of events, which was reviewed by a psychiatrist.
The medical professional noted Michie's parroted stock phrases and cliches.
He said the man functioned at the level of a child and probably had an IQ of about 70.
Michie was "less capable than he appears".
Judge Phillips said the total damage Michie caused amounted to $192,000 but there was no chance of the victims recouping any of their losses.
A spokesman from the Community Care Trust said he could not comment on the case because of privacy issues.