A Malekula chief will serve two years and nine months in prison for instructing his son and another boy to burn down five sleeping houses and two kitchens at Unua 1 Village on Malekula.
Chief Allan Basil, 45, and his son Albert Basil, 30, pleaded guilty to charges of complicity to arson contrary to section 30 and 134 (1) of the Penal Code Act CAP 135 while Padjo Korty, 17, pleaded guilty to charges of arson against section 134 (1).
Chief Justice Vincent Lunabek said that Albert and Korty’s sentence would be suspended while Chief Allan Basil was handed imprisonment sentence for being the ringleader of the group.
Lunabek said that the estimated cost of the loss engulfed by the fire during the offending is more than Vt1 million where the defendants could not afford to pay.
The Court found that in the village the family Basil and Shem had some differences that led to the offending.
A relative died in Basil’s clan and they claimed that the death was caused by Shem’s clan through witchcraft.
The matter was then dealt with in the village court in favour of family Shem but the other party was still not happy with the decision and decided to retaliate torching down houses and kitchens.
The Chief Justice said in his ruling that fortunately although houses were dwelling shelters, no one was hurt.
The facts presented in Court revealed that on December 9 at around 9pm to 10pm Chief Basil gave two litres of benzene inside an empty bag of rice with two matches before sending the men to torch down the houses.
Chief Basil had instructed them to wait until he left to drink kava before they could set fire to the house.
The Court found that Basil warned them to flee to the bush once they burnt the houses in which they did.
Basil told them not to report the matter to anybody.
But the matter came to light and they were taken to the police station and they admitted the offences.
Lunabek said that the offences are serious and carry up to 10 years imprisonment.
He said that the issue is that they did not only break the law but the circumstances under which they committed those offences make them aggravated by the breach of trust of the people to Basil as the village chief who happened to be the main man behind the fire.
The Chief Justice said that there was a degree of planning and premeditation and Basil planned for the offence before it was executed by his boys upon his instruction.
“You cannot take the law into your own hands and do justice as you like,” he said.
“There are other peaceful ways to solve problems in the communities”.
The Chief Justice said that four years was an appropriate starting point in this case inclusive of all aggravating features.
He said that in mitigation, the men are all first time offenders and were willing to perform a custom reconciliation but the victims refused claiming the case will be dealt with in court.
The accused all pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity where one third of that sentence was taken off from the initial sentence leaving the sentence of three years.
Three months were further deducted to reflect other mitigating factors leaving an end sentence of two years and nine months.
The Court ruled that the circumstances relating to the chief’s offending do not justify a suspension but the other two had their imprisonment terms suspended.
Chief Justice Lunabek also ordered Albert and Korty undergo six months probation.