Man’s big mistake on night of $7m school fire
A MAN accused of being the ringleader of a prank that caused millions of dollars damage to his former school told his mates "it's fine, let's go" when a fire alarm sounded after he set a locker alight.
The resulting blaze gutted a section of the school and caused almost $7 million in damage.
The Southport District Court was told Paul Hamstra set fire to a soccer ball, a book in a locker and also a hat, which was kicked into a locker by a co-offender, while at St Andrew's Lutheran College at Tallebudgera on Anzac Day in 2016.
Five days earlier he had set fire to playground equipment, causing almost $9000 in damage.
Hamstra, 22, who was initially charged with two counts of arson, has pleaded guilty in Southport District Court to wilful damage and endangering particular property by fire.
The court was told Hamstra organised to do a "school run" prank on Anzac Day in 2016 with a group of mates.
Crown prosecutor Matthew Hynes said Hamstra "asked others to look out for a particular student's locker as he didn't like them and he wanted to mess up that particular locker".
When Hamstra found it he removed a book, set it alight and closed the locker door.
Mr Hynes said Hamstra found a hat on the ground and set it alight, and another offender kicked it into a locker.
He said as the group walked towards their car "a smoke alarm started beeping" but
Hamstra told the others "it's fine, let's go".
Mr Hynes said Hamstra was the ringleader in the offending.
"(It was) his idea to go to the school to play a prank, his idea to find a locker of someone they didn't like, his idea after the smoke alarms went off to say 'let's go'," he said.
The court was told fire crews took 15 hours to put out the flames.
The blaze caused about $6.6 million in damage and had an impact on both the school and its community, Mr Hynes said.
Defence barrister Craig Eberhardt, instructed by Nyst Legal, said there was no intention to damage anything more than the contents of the locker, and the group believed the fire was extinguished before they left.
He said Hamstra was remorseful, and delays with the matter had caused enormous stress.
Hamstra's co-offenders, Harrison Rogers and Jackson Plass, who pleaded guilty to the more serious arson charges, have been sentenced to suspended jail terms.
Judge Catherine Muir reserved her decision.
Originally published as Man's big mistake on night of $7m school fire