A man who lived across the road from a giant, illegal pile of 400,000 old car tyres "snapped" and torched them, a court heard today.

Garry Grimmer, 62, had watched in horror for two years as the massive black tyre dump grew on leased farmland outside the North Canterbury township of Amberley.

He knew the spot of land well. It used to be a sprawling junkyard that his kids played in.

But he, and many of his neighbours, feared that the old tyres were contaminating the land, and could be jeopardising the town's underground water supply.
Subscribe to Premium

When Grimmer saw trucks delivering thousands of old tyres - ordered by Michael Le Roy who was collecting them for two companies and leasing the Racecourse Rd land off a local contractor - he became concerned.

Advertisement

Grimmer phoned Hurunui District Council as well as Environment Canterbury (ECan), who installed cameras to record footage of the tyre deliveries.

But the Christchurch District Court heard today no other immediate action was apparently taken by either authority.

Then, the November 2016 earthquake hit the Kaikoura and North Canterbury regions. Around that time, Grimmer lost his home, employment and his marriage.

The cost of battling the tyre stockpile began affecting his mental health, the court heard.

Trespass notices were put on Le Roy to stop him dumping any more tyres on the property. The landowner says the local authorities took over control of the place.

But Grimmer felt that nothing was happening.

And on February 26, 2018 he snapped. Grimmer took petrol and paper from home, crossed the road and lit a fire in a smaller pile of about 20,000 tyres beside the main pile of 400,000.

He immediately went home and phoned the fire brigade.

Advertisement
The large pile of tyres on fire near Amberley, North Canterbury in February 2018. Photo / Leanne Ellis (via Hurunui District Council Facebook)
The large pile of tyres on fire near Amberley, North Canterbury in February 2018. Photo / Leanne Ellis (via Hurunui District Council Facebook)

The massive blaze couldn't be put out for two days. It was with some irony, Judge Jane Farish noted, firefighters were ordered not to use water to extinguish the fire because of possible groundwater contamination.

Two months later, the Environment Court ordered the tyre companies to transfer the tyres to a warehouse approved by ECan. Both companies are face Environment Court charges of failing to comply with orders. A trial is scheduled for July. The landowner has been slapped with a bill he says amounts to around $159,000 to remediate the damaged land.

Against that background, Judge Farish said today, that Grimmer carried out his arson.

It was a crime not motivated by malice or greed, she said, but from frustration over what he perceived was a "lack of proactive steps" by authorities.

The judge didn't believe Grimmer's actions were premeditated and accepted that he "snapped".

He intended to bring attention, not just to his plight, but to that of his fellow residents who shared concerns over the risk of contamination to groundwater.

She sentenced apologetic first-offender Grimmer, who pleaded guilty to arson, to nine months' supervision.

However, she wasn't prepared to order a broke Grimmer to pay any reparations to the landowner, who she accepted was also a "victim", and who has been to foot the bill of rectifying the damaged land.