News

Woman admits to arson after Echuca unit fire

By Ivy Jensen

A WOMAN whose Echuca unit burnt down last year has pleaded guilty to arson.

Maree Louise Atkinson, 45, appeared in Bendigo County Court on Thursday, July 23, where she pleaded guilty to arson and committing an indictable offence while on bail.

Australian Community Media reported Atkinson had been living in the Njernda Aboriginal Corporation unit for about two years.

The court heard the Garden Crescent property was repeatedly damaged while Atkinson lived there, including broken windows and small fires, resulting in the woman being evicted from the property.

The court heard that on June 11 last year, neighbours heard Atkinson yelling in the unit.

Atkinson then started a fire in the lounge room, while another person, believed to be her daughter, was inside the property.

The court was told neighbours tried to put out the fire before firefighters arrived.

31 garden crescent house fire. Photo: Cath Grey

Plumes of smoke could be seen billowing from streets away as five CFA crews rushed to the blaze, which took 25 firefighters about 20 minutes to extinguish.

The damages bill was more than $200,000 as the unit needed to be demolished.

Atkinson, who was on bail at the time, was arrested and remanded in custody where she spent 130 days in pre-sentence detention before being released on bail.

The court heard she admitted to starting the fire but told police it was an accident.

Defence counsel Stephanie Gillihan submitted a neuropsychological report to the court, which showed Atkinson had mental health and alcohol issues, ACM reported.

Ms Gillihan also told the court Atkinson wanted to engage with a rehabilitative service in Melbourne.

Judge Irene Lawson said the charges were serious, but Atkinson had complex medical and social needs that needed to be addressed.

Judge Lawson said it would be better for Atkinson and the community if Atkinson received support and treatment.

Atkinson was ordered to appear in the same court next month for another plea hearing.

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