17 December 2019

Alleged Bega arsonist pleads not guilty

| Ian Campbell
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Bega Court House. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Bega Court House. Photo: Ian Campbell.

A NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteer from the Bega Valley charged with a spate of deliberately lit fires in the region has pleaded not guilty in Bega Local Court today.

Between October 27 and November 26 this year, there have been seven fires in the Bega Valley, which police believe to have been deliberately lit.

“Officers from South Coast Police District, in consultation with the Financial Crime Squad’s Arson Unit, have been investigating the circumstances surrounding the fires under Strike Force Laurina,” police report.

“Investigators have also been assisted by NSW RFS fire investigators.

On the afternoon of November 26, as part of their inquiries, police observed a man sitting in a dual cab ute next to the Bega River.

Police say, “a short time later, investigators noticed smoke and a pile of trees and grass on fire, which was reported to the NSW Rural Fire Service.”

“About 7 pm, police attended a fire shed in Tarraganda and arrested a 19-year-old man.”

Police allege Blake Banner, lit the fire and left the area before returning to respond to the fire as part of his duties as a volunteer firefighter. Mr Banner’s vehicle was also seized for forensic examination.

Dressed in a tie and supported by family for today’s brief appearance before Magistrate Doug Dick, Mr Banner sat quietly while his solicitor Jennifer Chalker entered a plea of not guilty to seven counts of ’cause fire and be reckless to its spread’.

Magistrate Dick continued bail after hearing that the 19-year-old had been reporting every day to police without fail.

The matter returns to Bega Local Court on January 28.

In a statement released after Mr Banner’s arrest last month, NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said, “this type of alleged behaviour is the ultimate betrayal of our own members, and of the broader community.”

“Arson is a dangerous and criminal act. It isn’t tolerated by society. And it’s not tolerated by the RFS, or our members.

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen firefighters going above and beyond in difficult and dangerous conditions.

“Our members will be rightly angry that the alleged actions of one individual can tarnish the reputation and hard work of so many.”

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