Black Saturday arsonist released from prison

Tom Hayes

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

THE arsonist responsible for devastating fires on Black Saturday bushfires was released from prison last week.

Brendan Sokaluk (now 54-years-old) was released on parole on Tuesday, April 30 after serving 14 years of his 17-year, nine-month sentence.

His release comes under the condition that he stays 80 kilometres or more away from his former hometown of Churchill.

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.

Mr Sokaluk was found guilty of 10 counts of arson causing death in 2012, for starting multiple fires that contributed to the Black Saturday disaster in February 2009.

Sokaluk was an ex-volunteer firefighter, but on the day of the fires, was caught gambling and buying cigarettes before being found at the scene after calling Triple Zero (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 described the incident as “a stupid accident”.

A Victoria Police spokesperson said they are aware of the convicted arsonist’s release, mentioning they will remain proactive in monitoring those in the community who have a history of high-risk offending, with the safety of the community their number one concern.

Mr Sokaluk was found to be responsible for 11 deaths for the fire he started in the Churchill region and is believed to have had his hand in more than 30,000 hectares of burnt land and 156 homes that were destroyed, threatening 12 towns.

It is unknown where Mr Sokaluk will reside following his release.

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