A 58-year-old former South Coast volunteer firefighter has been found guilty of lighting numerous bushfires between 2009 and 2013.
Eighteen-year Bendalong Rural Fire Brigade member Debbie Narel Brereton, of Manyana, wiped away tears when she was convicted in Bega District Court on Friday, November 9, of lighting four fires in the Shoalhaven area.
Brereton was facing nine counts of intentionally causing fire and being reckless as it spread, after being arrested in 2015 by members of the State Crime Command Property Crime Squad, part of Strike Force Toronto investigating arson attacks.
Three of Friday’s convictions related to fires started in November 2009 near Bendalong near the Conjola National Park.
NSW District Court Judge Andrew Colefax also found Brereton lit another fire near Inyadda Beach on January 6, 2013.
She was found not guilty on the remaining five charges.
Judge Colefax revoked Brereton’s bail, stating she had a high risk of reoffending with the fire season quickly approaching.
Brereton hugged and kissed her husband before being taken into custody.
Judge Colefax said Brereton had shown herself to be a “dishonest person” who had told “deliberate untruths” during the special hearing.
Brereton was found guilty of starting a fire near a pathway leading to Inyadda Beach on November 1, 2009, with Judge Colefax telling the court an eye witness had “almost collided with her” as she walked out of bushland around 10pm.
He said Brereton’s explanation she had been bushwalking was “implausible” due to the rugged terrain and lack of light.
Judge Colefax also said Brereton started a fire on Melbourne Cup Day two days later at Washerwomans Beach after witnesses saw her sitting in her car staring into an area of bushland on fire before quickly leaving the scene after being confronted.
He also found she lit a fire on the northern side of Bendalong Road on the night of November 21, 2009, after witnesses saw her car parked on a dirt track near the fire before she drove away at speed.
“There was no legitimate reason for Ms Brereton being down that track,” Judge Colefax told the court.
He said Brereton failed to call emergency services and has later lied to police due to her “consciousness of guilt”.
He adjourned the special hearing to February 1 next year at Parramatta District Court to allow time for her defence team to submit a specialist report from a geriatrician.