Natasha Spiller has plead guilty to intentionally lighting the fire that caused widespread damage in Tabulam during February.
Natasha Spiller has plead guilty to intentionally lighting the fire that caused widespread damage in Tabulam during February. Aisling Brennan

Distressed, remorseful mum-of-eight sentenced over bushfire

UPDATE, 12.45pm: THE woman who caused a destructive fire in Tabulam earlier this year has been sentenced.

Natasha Spiller was flanked by loved ones when she attended Casino Local Court today.

The 40-year-old mother of eight was scheduled to face a hearing on the charge of intentionally lighting a fire and being reckless to its spread.

But this was withdrawn after she pleaded guilty to a fresh charge, of an owner permitting fire to escape their land, causing damage.

That lesser charge was laid by the prosecution this morning.

Magistrate Jeff Linden said to say it caused damage was "a complete understatement".

"This was a huge problem," Mr Linden said.'

Chauvel Rd after the Tabulam fire.
Chauvel Rd after the Tabulam fire. Susanna Freymark

 

Reading from an agreed set of facts, Mr Linden said Spiller, who had no criminal record prior to the incident, had set alight material in a bin at her Tabulam property.

At one point she heard a pop and checked on the blaze but found nothing untoward.

Later, Spiller believed the fire had "simmered down ash".

But the fire escaped the drum and spread to surrounding bushland.

In the weeks that followed, 18 homes were lost and some 7500ha was burnt.

But Mr Linden said references defence solicitor Vince Boss tendered to the court were "outstanding" while a sentencing assessment report demonstrated "sincere contrition about the matter".

"The references speak of a very, very fine young lady," Mr Linden said.

Mr Linden read from one reference from a woman affected by the fire.

She recalled Spiller coming to her, distressed and remorseful, two days after the fire had destroyed 80 per cent of her farm.

"This … shows her true strength of character," the woman wrote.

There were further references before the court from people affected by the fire who attested to Spiller's good character and "received precisely the same treatment", Mr Linden said.

Mr Boss told the court his client had "remorse in relation to the damage that other people have suffered" and the efforts she's make to make amends, including helping people affected by that fire, and by other more recent bushfires.

"From the moment she realised the fire was there, she contacted the fire services, co-operated with police," she said.

But Mr Boss said his client wasn't someone who only contributed to her community as a result of her mistake.

"Ms Spiller … is a person who has given a lot to her community, not only after the fire, as a result of the fire," he said.

"She's has always given a lot to her community."

Police prosecutor Carrie-Lee Locke accepted Ms Spiller had entered a guilty plea to the fresh charge at the first available opportunity.

"This offence was, put simply, an act of stupidity," Ms Locke said.

She said Mr Linden he was faced with a "difficult sentencing exercise" in balancing Spiller's genuine contrition with the need to denounce such behaviour, which took place on a total fire ban day.

Mr Linden convicted Spiller and sentenced her to an 18-month intensive corrections order, which will expire in March 2021.

She will also be required to complete 100 hours' community service.

 

UPDATE, 11.05am: TABULAM woman Natasha Spiller has been sentenced over a February fire that tore through her community.

The 40-year-old has pleaded guilty to one count of an owner permitting fire to escape their land, causing damage.

Magistrate Jeff Linden has sentenced her to an 18 month intensive corrections order and 100 hours of community service.

Part of a reference from a community member affected by the fire, who attested to her good character, was read out in court.

More to come.

 

UPDATE, 10.50am: A TABULAM woman who was due to face a hearing over a destructive bushfire has pleaded guilty to a fresh charge against her.

Natasha Spiller, 40, appeared briefly before Casino Local Court this morning.

She had been expected to face a hearing on the charge of intentionally lighting a fire and being reckless to its spread.

But her solicitor, Vince Boss, told the court a fresh charge had been laid this morning.

"We're entering a plea of guilty to that and I understand that other charge is now being withdrawn," Mr Boss said.

Police prosecutor Carrie-Lee Locke confirmed this, and asked Magistrate Jeff Linden to stand the matter down so the parties could prepare for sentencing, including finalising an account of the incident.

"I can indicate Ms Spiller has no prior record," she said.

Neither party revealed the details of the fresh charge to the court.

Mr Boss tendered to the court a bundle of references on behalf of his client.

The matter will return to court later today.

 

Original story: A WOMAN accused of causing a destructive Tabulam fire in February will face a hearing today.

Natasha Spiller, 40, will defend the charge of intentionally lighting a fire and being reckless to its spread before Casino Local Court.

Ms Spiller's lawyer, Vince Boss, had earlier lodged a plea of guilty to this charge on her behalf, but this was reversed when the court later heard there was an ongoing "live issue".

At Ms Spiller's last appearance, the court heard this related to the extent of damage caused by the fire, as well as her alleged intent.

Police will allege the defendant set alight material inside a drum on her Tabulam property on the morning of February 13, before allowing the fire to spread.

A total of 18 homes were destroyed and more than 7500ha of land in the Tabulam area was burnt.

Ms Spiller has arrived at Casino courthouse ahead of the hearing.

More to come.