A young man who has a history of setting fires is back behind bars after a sentencing hearing in the Tauranga District Court. Sandra Conchie reports.
A Tauranga man who set fire to a police patrol car so he could be sent back to prison has been granted his wish after receiving a jail term of more than two years.
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Andrew Trevor Downs, 26, set fire to a police patrol car parked at the Pāpāmoa police station and a large bush in the sand dunes 2km down the road on November 4 last year.
Downs, who earlier pleaded guilty to a charge of arson, was sentenced in the Tauranga District Court yesterday via an audio-visual link from prison by Judge Chris Sygrove.
Police sought reparation of $41,875.89 to replace the patrol car.
In the early hours of November 4, Downs was driving along Pāpāmoa Beach Rd after travelling from his Tauranga home looking for something to set fire to, the court heard.
Downs spotted the marked patrol car parked in front of the station and a police officer in another next to, so he drove to some nearby shops and waited until the officer had left.
He then drove back to the police station, removed a petrol container from the boot of his car and grabbed some long barbecue matches from the front seat.
Downs splashed petrol over the rear windscreen and boot of the patrol car, threw a lit match on to the vehicle parked next to the station building.
It instantly burst into flames and he quickly drove to Arataki.
About 2km down the road he saw a bush in the sand dunes and tipped some of the petrol on to the long grass as the base of a bush in the sand dunes and set it alight.
Police said the second fire posed a risk to the whole community.
Downs then drove up and down and watched the "show unfold" as police and fire engines arrived to put out the fires, before handing himself in at Tauranga central police station.
Downs told police that had left home "wanting to burn something" and he "needed' to go back to prison, and that's where he wanted to be.
Crown prosecutor Oliver Salt told Judge Sygrove that Downs' actions were premeditated and he had put police and attending firefighters at high risk as the fire could easily have spread to the nearby Pāpāmoa police station.
There was also risk to the general public from the second fire and police sought reparation in the sum of $41,875,89 to replace the patrol car, he said.
Salt said Downs had been assessed as at high risk of reoffending and high risk of harm to others and he had shown no remorse.
A prison sentence of three years to three-and-half years' was appropriate before discounts for mitigating factors and his guilty plea, he said.
Salt also sought an uplift of another six months to reflect Downs' prior arson and wilful damage by fire convictions in 2016.
Downs had only been released from prison for those matters a short time prior to his November 4 arson offending, he said.
Downs' lawyer Jason Owers said his client had been struggling to re-integrate himself back into the community after he was released from prison last year.
Owers urged Judge Sygrove to allow a 25 per cent discount for Downs' guilty plea and a further discount for his psychological difficulties outlined in a psychologist's report.
"The defence does not accept Downs' actions were premeditated and there was no evidence that the arson was committed as an act of vindictiveness against the police.
"Mr Downs' instructions were that he believed the police could cope with the fire rather than a member of the public, but there was no deliberate targeting of the police."
Downs did not stay to "watch the show" but rather remained nearby so to ensure the fire did not intensify further, Owers said.
Judge Sygrove told Downs a prison sentence of two years, six months was appropriate. taking into account his guilty plea, past convictions and mental health issues.
"Mr Downs, you wanted to go back to prison and today I am granting your wish."
The judge said it was to Downs' credit that he handed himself and had regard to the psychologist report which showed he was taking anti-depressant medication.
It also appeared that Downs had become "somewhat fixated" with setting fires which needed to be fully "forensically" assessed, he said.
Judge Sygrove declined to make a reparation order as Downs had no means to pay it.