Gippsland man sent for trial — (The Age)

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The Age

ADRIAN LOWE

July 6, 2010

A GIPPSLAND man accused of lighting the deadly Black Saturday bushfires in Churchill has been committed to stand trial.

Brendan James Sokaluk, 40, yesterday pleaded not guilty to 190 charges, including 10 counts of arson causing death, one of intentionally causing a bushfire and 20 of recklessly causing serious injury.

Sokaluk is also accused of arson causing property damage involving the destruction of 156 homes and one community hall and of destroying a plantation of more than 30,000 hectares of Gippsland forest.

Another charge of possessing child pornography was earlier withdrawn.

In Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday, magistrate Simon Garnett told Sokaluk: ”The charges you are facing are of the most serious kind.”

Mr Garnett said there was evidence that Sokaluk was in the immediate area when the fires started and there was sufficient evidence for a properly instructed jury to convict him.

The court was told Sokaluk, a former Country Fire Authority volunteer, had an unspecified intellectual disability and had been taking medication for anxiety and depression for some years.

When Mr Garnett asked Sokaluk for his plea, Sokaluk paused and asked: “Me?” – then pleaded not guilty.

He will appear in the Supreme Court for a directions hearing in two weeks. He did not apply for bail.