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Vic: Accused arsonist deserves fair trial, say police

14 Feb 2009 12:12 PM

MELBOURNE, Feb 14 AAP - Police say a man charged over one of Victoria's deadly bushfires must be allowed a fair trial.

The community can have faith in the justice system, they say.

The man, whose identity cannot be released, was arrested on Friday and charged with crimes including arson and possessing child pornography.

He is accused of lighting the Churchill fire, which killed 21 people.

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Fontana said he believed the man could get a fair trial and called on the public to allow the justice system to do its job.

"We have got to respect the system, our whole justice system is based on providing fairness to everyone that's charged ... because there is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty," he said.

The man remains in custody and is due to appear before the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on Monday.

The latest figures released by the government show the number of homes destroyed in the state's bushfires has risen by three to 1,834, the death toll remains at 181 and has not changed since Tuesday.

The number of people displaced is 7,500, according to the Red Cross.

Centrelink has issued 3,300 bushfire survivors with nearly $3 million in immediate needs grants.

Emergency Services Commissioner Bruce Esplin urged people who wanted to help bushfire survivors to donate money rather than goods, as welfare organisations had been overwhelmed by donations of goods.

Meanwhile, emergency services have welcomed forecasts of milder weather for Victoria and say it will help their battle to contain several ongoing bushfires.

There are 4,500 firefighters battling 12 blazes in Victoria.

"The weather forecast for the next week that's been provided to us by the bureau is very encouraging for firefighters," CFA deputy chief officer Geoff Conway said.

"The conditions will remain not so much benign, but they're certainly quite mild."

He said these conditions would allow firefighters to continue consolidating control lines and backburning.