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Judicial CP - September 2000

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Borneo Bulletin, Bandar Seri Begawan, 26 September 2000

Kg Ayer arsonist gets 7 years jail

By Liza Mohamad

The accused
Roslan bin Yusof.

The High Court yesterday sent a young man who was found guilty of setting fire to Kampong Ayer to seven years in prison. He was also sentenced with six strokes of the rattan as a penalty.

He is twenty three year old Roslan bin Yusof, who pleaded guilty to 11 charges of starting a fire which destroyed 11 houses in Kampong Peramu and left over 100 people homeless.

The court heard that the accused was under tremendous stress at the time the crime was committed as he was unable to pay $500 for a fine for stealing a boat. He was afraid that he would be imprisoned if he could not raise the money.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Mohd Yusree bin Hj Junaidi told the High Court before Judge Datin Hayati binte Hj Mohd Salleh, that the huge inferno had left over 100 people homeless and caused damage of approximately $759,000.

However, Counsel for the accused, Daud bin Ismail noted that the defendant's plea of guilt had shown his genuine regret and remorse for what he has done. This was clearly in evidence when he made a frank admission of guilt immediately upon his arrest.

The defendant first made a verbal confession to Lance Corporal Md Hambran and then a further admission of guilt in his two written statements was recorded on June 7 this year.

The Counsel also told the court there have been outbreaks of fire at Kg Ayer in recent times but the prosecution of those responsible have not been successful for lack of information. The present case is an exception because of his frank and voluntary confession of guilt early in his arrest. That conduct must stand in the defendant's favour, the Counsel argued.

The Counsel said that the defendant's plea of guilt would entitle him to at least a discount of one third of the sentence.

The Counsel related the circumstances leading to the commission of the offence. Two weeks before the fire, the defendant was fined by the Magistrate's Court for stealing a boat and its engine from a neighbour. He was given until June 10 to settle the fine or he would be imprisoned for one month in default.

The defendant had earlier approached his father who could not assist him. No one was able to assist him at that time. This upset and angered him that when coupled with the stress had caused him to set fire to his father's house. Evidence also revealed that he was on drugs at that time. His urine tested positive for Syabu.

The Counsel submitted that the setting of the fire was not a pre-meditated act but it came in dire desperation and coupled with his anger and frustrations due to his inability to secure the sum from his family to settle the fines.

The fire engulfed his family's home and also destroyed other homes.

Counsel Daud however did not dispute that the damage done was huge as evidenced by the report tendered. But he noted that no life has been lost nor injury to anybody. The defendant suffered injuries during his apprehension. It appeared that some angry villagers had lost control and had taken the law into their hands and caused injuries to him.

The Counsel showed to court a picture of the defendant published in a Chinese local daily newspaper, when he first appeared in court in a battered condition.

The defendant had already been punished and the assault on him by the angry villagers would deter him from committing offences of this nature, the Counsel pointed out. The injuries he suffered was shown in a medical report presented to the court.

The defendant had been under police custody and remanded at Jerudong prison since he was arrested on June 5 this year.

The Counsel said that the period should be taken into consideration and deducted from the sentence.

The defendant is still single, self-employed and the seventh in the family of eight brothers and sisters.

The defendant comes from a poor family but with a good family background, Counsel Daud submitted in mitigation. His father, Yusof bin Hj Ismail is now 67 years old and was an ex-police officer. The father is suffering from Parkinson's disease and is receiving maintenance of $525 per month from the Welfare Department.

Since the defendant's arrest, his family has been subjected to abuses and ridicule by victims affected by the fire. This has caused a lot of embarrassment and shame and had put them under a lot of stress and anxiety. The family also suffered with the loss of their family home and all their belongings.

The offence the accused committed falls under Section 435 (1) (c) of the Penal Code which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail and whipping with not less than 6 strokes.

The Counsel submitted this is an exceptional case which should not attract the deterrent sentence principle as commission of the offence committed was not a meditated and with all the mitigating factors, the public interest would be better served if his sentence would turn him into a good citizen.

DPP Yusree argued that though the defendant had pleaded guilty, the prosecution submitted the sentence to be passed must reflect the seriousness of the offence. The defendant had, through his reprehensible and irresponsible action, caused misery to many people including members of his own family.

These victims lost their houses and property, DPP Yusree noted. It was fortunate that there was no injury or loss of life. Only the competence and the bravery of the fire fighters assisted by members of the public prevented this tragedy from being a more serious one. Nevertheless, the loss is still considerable, he said.

The prosecution urged the court to pass a sentence, which would deter like-minded people.

Recently, there were also "disturbing" reports of unknown person or persons deliberately attempting to start fires in Kg Ayer. Through an appropriately severe sentence, the court would send a message that such conduct would not be tolerated and the perpetrators would be dealt with harshly, said DPP Yusree.

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