Jail for Maffra storage shed arsonist

Bryce Eishold

A man who set fire to a storage warehouse at Maffra in August 2018, causing almost $2 million in damage, has been sentenced to a maximum of four years and nine months behind bars.

Donovan James Finn, 46, was sentenced in the Latrobe Valley County Court on Tuesday after pleading guilty to burglary, theft, arson and possessing cannabis following his arrest last year.

In court, Justice John Smallwood detailed the “catastrophic” consequences of the blaze on the Maffra community, including how 49 families lost about $1.3 million worth of household items.

In sentencing, Justice Smallwood said Finn stole a number of items from the Malmo Street warehouse on August 6 including fuel cards, a drill and charger, commercial rolls of toilet paper, a framed print and keys to trucks and storage containers before setting the warehouse alight.

“What you were going to do with those various sets of keys is anyone’s guess,” Justice Smallwood said.

He said Finn entered a reasonably early plea, despite denying he lit the blaze during an interview with police days after the fire.

Finn was placing the stolen items inside a friend’s car he had borrowed outside the warehouse when he dropped a hard drive on the ground which was later recovered by investigators, Justice Smallwood detailed.

“CCTV shows you driving away from the premises as an explosion comes from within a warehouse.”

Prosecutors estimated the fire caused half-a-million dollars in damage to the business, while household items belonging to 49 families valued at about $1.3 million were destroyed in the fire.

The sentencing hearing detailed how Finn visited his friend’s house after the fire where he asked her to burn documents he had stolen from the warehouse.

Police were led to Finn after a stolen fuel card was located on a Maffra intersection, along with a bank card in the name of the accused.

Justice Smallwood said Finn told police he had accidently dropped a cigarette lighter in the warehouse, however, Justice Smallwood said it was a deliberate and conscious act of arson.

A victim impact statement read in court by Justice Smallwood from Anderson’s Removals, Maffra, revealed the company had an insurance shortfall which left many people affected by the blaze receiving only partial insurance payouts.

The company also detailed how the fire placed the business in an “incredibly distressing position”, along with casting uncertainty about the future of its 20 staff.

In sentencing, Justice Smallwood said Finn lived a troubled childhood, spending time in and out of institutional homes before he began committing crimes at the age of 12.`

He also spent time behind bars, as recently as 2013, for burglary, theft and drug offences and had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and a severe case of anti-social personality disorder, the hearing revealed.

Justice Smallwood said Finn had managed to “keep himself out of trouble” in the five years leading up to the August 2018 incident after he relocated to NSW to live with his partner, with whom he has a four-year-old child.

However, his return to Maffra in August 2018, to care for his mother who had a heart attack, contributed to his “relapse” where he fell into “old habits”, Justice Smallwood said.

He said Finn’s prospect of rehabilitation would be dependent on his abstinence from drug use, acknowledging he was under the influence of drugs at the time of offending.

Finn was sentenced to a minimum of three years in jail and has already served 318 days in custody.