... So that You may be kept informed

Vic: Public warned against revenge after arson charge

By Michelle Draper, Edwina Scott and Greg Roberts
13 Feb 2009 8:00 PM

MELBOURNE, Feb 13 AAP - Local residents were warned against seeking revenge after a man was charged over the Churchill bushfire which killed 21 people in Gippsland, in Victoria's southeast.

As he was driven away from Morwell Magistrates Court on Friday, angry residents hurled abuse at the man who has been charged with arson causing death, intentionally or recklessly causing a bushfire, and possessing child pornography.

He could face 25 years in jail.

The accused man's lawyer said on Friday his client was in a fragile mental state.

"He should be seen to by a doctor," the lawyer said.

The man, who cannot be named, was taken from Morwell to Melbourne for his own safety and was remanded in custody to reappear in Melbourne Magistrate's Court on Monday.

"We have a very emotive environment out there," Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Dannye Moloney told reporters.

"People are pointing fingers, people are jumping to conclusions.

"Rumours and innuendo are being spread. We do not need that.

"Let Victoria Police do its role and identify this person.

"We are prosecuting this person on behalf of the community.

"If we left a person there it would only be a situation where the people may go to where they believe him to be held and I don't think they need the trauma."

The court imposed a suppression order on all details of his identity.

Callignee resident Gavin Wigginton (Wigginton), who lost his home in the Churchill blaze, said he thought anyone convicted of arson was either insane or a murderer.

"If this person is not insane, then I think he should be in jail for a very long time," Mr Wigginton told AAP.

"Essentially, if he's culpable, (if) he's all there, he must have known that this was going to kill people and that clearly is murder."

Twleve people died in Callignee, four in Hazelwood and Koornalla, and one in Jeeralang.

Another Callignee resident, Daryl Payne, who also lost his home said arsonists should be forced to see for themselves the death and destruction they had caused.

"I reckon they should be going up there taking bodies out of cars," he said.

Premier John Brumby said anyone who lit fires deliberately put the community and human life at great risk.

"It's an unspeakable and heinous crime," he told reporters.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had earlier in the week likened arsonists to mass murderers and said they should "rot in jail."

The almost-36,000ha Churchill fire in the Latrobe Valley region of Gippsland remains out of control, but is no longer posing a threat to communities in the region.

Police also confirmed on Friday the Marysville blaze which killed up to 100 of the town's 500 residents was being treated as suspicious, along with the fires at Murrindindi, Buxton and Narbethong.

Police would like to speak to anyone who was near the Murrindindi Mill between the towns of Yea and Glenburn last Saturday.

The total death toll from the blazes that ripped through the central highlands and Gippsland last Saturday still stands at 181 but is expected to jump above 300.

On Friday, police said 1,831 houses had now been destroyed and more than 7,000 people had been made homeless by the fires.

The Marysville residents made homeless by the inferno which wiped out their entire community will be allowed back into the town for the first time on Saturday.

But any hope of being able to pick through the ruins of their lost homes will be dashed.

Aboard a fleet of shuttle buses, they will be accompanied by counsellors and police officers but will not be allowed off and will be told they cannot take photos, even from inside the vehicles.

"I want to go and look at the town, we are calling it ash-ville now," Marysville resident Monica Raymond told AAP.

"I don't intend being emotional but it might not be pleasant on the bus with people emotional and having fits."

Meanwhile, Mr Brumby has appointed former Supreme Court Justice Bernard Teague to chair a Royal Commission into Victoria's bushfires.

The commission will provide an interim report this year to allow recommendations to be implemented in time for the 2009-2010 bushfires season.