Sokaluk sentence appeal

THE Director of Public Prosecutions’ appeal to Churchill’s Black Saturday arsonist Brendan Sokaluk’s sentence has “reopened the wound”, according to a community representative.

Last month, Supreme Court Judge Justice Paul Coghlan handed down his decision and sentenced the autistic 42 year-old to 17 years and nine months jail after being found guilty of 10 counts of arson causing death.

Sokaluk was charged with deliberately starting the blaze for the catastrophic 7 February 2009 fire. He received a 14-year non-parole period and has served about three years.

Yesterday, it was reported by The Age the Crown would appeal and argue the sentence handed down was manifestly inadequate for Sokaluk.

Churchill and District Community Association president Margaret Guthrie said the appeal had “reopened the wound for the people that are grieving”.

“At the end of the day, nothing restores the lives that were lost, the homes that were lost and undoes the distress that was caused,” Ms Guthrie said.

“Some people will just want it to be over and some won’t want ongoing appeals and ongoing media attention and ongoing mentioning of his (Sokaluk’s) name.”

Following Judge Coghlan’s April decision, Ms Guthrie said the community had mixed responses about whether the sentence was adequate.

“Many people expressed their opinion that the sentence should have been longer however, some people thought that the judge made the sentence decision because the judge was convinced of mitigating circumstances,” she said.

In handing down the sentence last month, Justice Coghlan said he accepted Sokaluk did not “intend to kill” when he lit the deadly blaze.

He said he was satisfied Sokaluk started the deadly blaze at two locations near the intersection of Glendonald Road and Jelleffs Outlet, Churchill.

The judge took Sokaluk’s autism and an intellectual disability into account when setting the jail term, but said the sentence “did not put a value on life”.