Black Saturday arsonist to be eligible for parole

Behind bars: Brendan Sokaluk (right) being investigated in 2009. He is likely to return to the community in June, when released on parole. Photo: Supplied


WARNING: The contents of this story may be distressing to some readers, reader discretion is advised.

TODAY (Tuesday, February 7) it was revealed by the Herald Sun, that arsonist of the Black Saturday Bushfire in Central Gippsland that sparked throughout Churchill and surrounding areas, Brendan Sokaluk, would be eligible for parole in June, 2023.

Sokaluk was an ex-volunteer firefighter, but on the day of the fires, he was caught gambling and buying cigarettes before being found at the scene after calling 000.

The 42-year-old explained in 2009, that he smoked while driving, and wrapped his lit cigarette in paper before throwing it out of the window, not knowing it was lit.

Sokaluk explained the incident as “a stupid accident”.

Later, another origin point of the fire was found, tracing the fire back to Sokaluk on a deliberate basis.

Sokaluk had no explanation for phoning 000, no explanation for being at the edge of the plantation (where the fire started), and no explanation for why the fire had two points of ignition.

The bushfire started by Sokaluk threatened 12 surrounding towns, destroyed 156 homes, burnt 36,000 hectares of land, and killed 11 people.

Sokaluk was arrested on February 12, 2009, and brought in for questioning at the Morwell police station.

The following day, he was charged with one count each of arson causing death, intentionally lighting a bushfire and possession of child pornography.

Days later, the suppression order was lifted and Sokaluk was named as the accused arsonist.

He was given leniency for having autism and a borderline intellectual disability, discovered after his arrest.

Sokaluk was convicted of 10 counts of arson causing death and sentenced to 17 years and nine months imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 14 years, in April 2012.

Today marks 14 years since the fire broke out in the Latrobe Valley.

By June, Sokaluk could be a free man, after receiving “time off his sentence for hardship experienced while incarcerated during the pandemic,” The Herald Sun wrote.

The Herald Sun also revealed that Sokaluk, now 53, still owns his home in Churchill, while his family still support him.

Understandably unforgiving, 86-year-old Churchill resident, Shirley Gibson, lost her two sons as they tried to save her home in Hazelwood South.

“He’s a sick boy, a simple boy, but what he did killed my boys and it breaks my heart I’ll never see them again. It is what it is, him getting out. He’s done his time. But I can’t ever forgive him,” Ms Gibson said.

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