Teen walks away with probation
AN IPSWICH teenager who accidentally started a spectacular inferno which destroyed part of Ipswich's old railway workshops has been sentenced to three years probation and 240 hours community service.
Mitchell Andrew Dewhirst, 18, pleaded guilty to one count of arson at Ipswich District Court, where the court was told he and a 13-year-old co-accused broke into some old buildings.
After sniffing glue and lighting some paper on the ground, the younger boy tried to extinguish the fire with a wooden draw, before the duo fled.
The fire at the corner of North and WM Hughes Sts lit up the night sky across Ipswich and needed 14 fire crews to bring it under control.
Almost 50 firefighters were called to battle the blaze and North Ipswich residents were told to stay inside with their doors and windows shut.
Despite most of the fire being contained to the three buildings, flames came dangerously close to the museum itself.
The major concern was when fire crews on the scene discovered both buildings contained asbestos and advised Queensland Health.
The cost to clean up the blaze, including the removal of asbestos, was $200,000.
Dewhirst turned himself into police the day after the blaze, on September 27.
Crown prosecutors accepted Dewhirst's actions were not malicious and said his behaviour had been that of "stupidity".
Judge Deborah Richards noted Dewhirst had limited criminal history and had been honest with police.
"While jail is very much a consideration in this case, what is keeping you out is you had the courage to own up to what you had done," Judge Richards said.
Judge Richards also accepted Dewhirst's actions were negligent, rather than intentional, and she accepted he never meant to burn the buildings down.
She sentenced Dewhirst to three years probation and ordered him to perform 240 hours of community service.
She also ordered he undertake drug and alcohol counselling.
The court heard the 13-year-old co-offender was dealt with in March and he too received three years probation and 240 hours community service.
The buildings destroyed were disused engineering offices and administration blocks scheduled for demolition. They dated from the 1940s and were part of the original North Ipswich Railway Workshops but had been sold to a private owner six years ago.