30 June 2023

Man pleads guilty after destructive fire burns 170-year-old Commercial Hotel in Yass

| Albert McKnight
Flames gutted the Commercial Hotel in Yass during the devastating blaze in May 2023.

Flames gutted the Commercial Hotel in Yass during the devastating blaze in May 2023. Photo: NSW Fire and Rescue.

The young man arrested over the destructive fire that gutted the historic hotel in Yass last month has pleaded guilty and been listed for sentencing.

A fire started in the 170-year-old Commercial Hotel, on Comur Street, on 22 May 2023.

More than 40 firefighters from teams in NSW and the ACT attended the blaze and managed to stop it spreading to adjacent properties.

It took emergency crews more than six hours to extinguish the fire, with an exclusion zone established because of fears the walls could collapse.

Sadly, the hotel was extensively damaged as the flames spread through the building.

According to firefighters, the first floor had collapsed onto the ground and the roof had fallen in over the top of it all, resulting in a huge amount of debris.

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The hotel was built in the 1840s and had been sitting vacant since 2005. While it had become derelict, developers had recently started restoration work on the building.

There were no reports of injuries in the fire.

The Commercial Hotel

The fire at the Commercial Hotel was extinguished, but the building was significantly damaged. Photo: Sally Hopman.

It did not take long for police to arrest Shyhiem Whilliams, who is also listed as Shyhiem Williams in court records, at an address in Yass after the blaze and he was granted bail a few days later.

While discussing his bail application, his lawyer said that his client had been off medication for a mental health condition and was “unwell”.

The 21-year-old appeared in the Parramatta Local Court on Wednesday (28 June) where he pleaded guilty to charges of causing damage by fire to property worth more than $15,000, as well as break and enter.

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Magistrate Kate Thompson accepted his guilty pleas and listed the matter for sentencing before the court in Parramatta on 19 July.

The bail of the Carlingford man was also continued.

After the fire, Yass Valley Council ordered that the hotel be demolished due to the precarious state of the building.

The hotel had been the social hub of the town in its prime, providing a resting place for commercial travellers for many years. It had stood the test of time, including a fire and a cyclone in its earlier days, but had been reduced to an eyesore in its recent life while decisions were being made about its future.

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