Arsonist blinded — (Bendigo Advertiser)

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Bendigo Advertiser

3/02/2009 4:00:00 AM

A FORMER business executive took medication prescribed for his dog as part of a cocktail of anti-depressants which contributed to the downward spiral of his life and four arson-related charges, according to evidence given in a Bendigo court yesterday.

The Bendigo County Court heard Barry Patrick Rochford, 48, had pleaded guilty to two counts of arson and two counts of attempted arson, which occurred south-east of Bendigo during an 11-day spree in August 2008.

During evidence given before Judge Ross Howie, the court heard Rochford had lost the sight in his left eye after being bashed in prison for refusing to assault another prisoner, and that the former high flyer had seen another prisoner hang himself, and witnessed another inmate being stabbed during his time in Port Phillip Prison.

Rochford was arrested outside the Bendigo Library on Friday, August 29, 2008 after an attempt was made to set fire to a house in Sedgwick Road by igniting three packets of Little Lucifer firestarters and methylated spirits under the building.

A receipt from Bunnings Warehouse for the firestarters and methylated spirits were discovered during a search of Rochford’s car.

During a subsequent interview with detectives, Rochford was told his fingerprints had been found on a gas bottle recovered from a deliberately lit fire at the Emu Creek tennis clubrooms.

He then made admissions relating to fires at the Mandurang Hall and St Joseph’s Catholic Church Axe Creek and indicated he had been taking anti-depressants, including some prescribed by a veterinarian for dogs, and other medication purchased illegally from a person at a local hotel.

The court heard that damage from the four fires was estimated at more than $257,000.

During evidence presented by defence barrister Shane Gardner, the court heard that Rochford had endured “not an overly happy childhood’’ and had been sexually abused by a relative as a child.

Reference was also made to two attempts at suicide by Rochford in more recent years as his life unravelled.

He was also described as “a high-achieving man in his 40s, with an MBA’’, to which Judge Howie replied: “How can I assess what risk he poses to the community?’’

Character witnesses for Rochford, who at the peak of his career earned $400,000 as a senior executive with Bendigo Bank, described him as a man who had made a “vast contribution to the community’’.

One Melbourne law firm partner who had known Rochford since his days as chief executive of Nillumbik Shire said he had watched his friend set his sights lower and lower as pressures mounted on him and his life, and Brighton solicitor Mark Hayes said Rochford’s actions “beggared belief’’.

Further character evidence was presented to the court from 12 friends and associates of Rochford, representing the business and community sectors.

Prosecutor Jim Bessel said compensation orders would be sought for $75,485.08 regarding the Mandurang Hall fire, and a further $181,699.99 for the St Joseph’s Axe Creek fire.

He also said there was an aggregated feature of Rochford’s offending, as he was on bail for other matters that are the subject of other proceedings.

“He had no mental illness, your Honour, that could reduce his moral culpability,’’ Mr Bessel said.

A condition of bail was that Rochford reside away from his home in Mandurang.

When interviewed by police about the reasons behind the Mandurang Hall fire, Rochford said: “I was angry at being kicked out of Mandurang for doing nothing wrong.’’

Judge Howie said he was mystified by the nature of Rochford’s admitted offending.

“I find it very hard to find an understanding,’’ he said.

He remanded Rochford in custody for sentencing in the Bendigo County Court on Friday, February 13.

He was also described as “a high-achieving man in his 40s, with an MBA’’, to which Judge Howie replied: “How can I assess what risk he poses to the community?’’

Character witnesses for Rochford, who at the peak of his career earned $400,000 as a senior executive with Bendigo Bank, described him as a man who had made a “vast contribution to the community’’.

One Melbourne law firm partner who had known Rochford since his days as chief executive of Nillumbik Shire said he had watched his friend set his sights lower and lower as pressures mounted on him and his life, and Brighton solicitor Mark Hayes said Rochford’s actions “beggared belief’’.

Further character evidence was presented to the court from 12 friends and associates of Rochford, representing the business and community sectors.

Prosecutor Jim Bessel said compensation orders would be sought for $75,485.08 regarding the Mandurang Hall fire, and a further $181,699.99 for the St Joseph’s Axe Creek fire.

He also said there was an aggregated feature of Rochford’s offending, as he was on bail for other matters that are the subject of other proceedings.

“He had no mental illness, your Honour, that could reduce his moral culpability,’’ Mr Bessel said.

A condition of bail was that Rochford reside away from his home in Mandurang.

When interviewed by police about the reasons behind the Mandurang Hall fire, Rochford said: “I was angry at being kicked out of Mandurang for doing nothing wrong.’’

Judge Howie said he was mystified by the nature of Rochford’s admitted offending.

“I find it very hard to find an understanding,’’ he said.

He remanded Rochford in custody for sentencing in the Bendigo County Court on Friday, February 13.