GUILTY: Maria Williams leaves Ipswich Court House on December 10, 2018.
GUILTY: Maria Williams leaves Ipswich Court House on December 10, 2018. Ross Irby

Ipswich woman lights house on fire with Airbnb tenant inside

THE life of an Airbnb guest was jeopardised when his Ipswich landlady lit two fires inside her home.

Only the sounds of an exploding glass door glass and the fire alarm at midnight woke the guest "Mohammed" and the woman's husband, Ipswich District Court heard.

Judge Alexander Horneman-Wren SC expressed great concern that a woman who rented out her rooms to paying guests should do such a crime.

The woman blamed her intoxication from alcohol that night, and that she was feeling unhappy, as motive deliberately lighting the two fires.

Maria Aletta Susanna Williams, 52, pleaded guilty to two charges that she endangered a Springfield Lakes property by fire on August 2.

Crown prosecutor Evan O'Hanlon-Rose said Williams was South African-born with no prior criminal history.

Mr O'Hanlon-Rose said Williams had been drinking that night.

Her husband and their paying guest were woken at midnight to the sounds of a bang and the fire alarm sounding.

They found her standing in the dining kitchen area with a burning bundle of clothes on the floor, the fire spreading to the curtains which were in flames.

The guest used a wet towel on the fire and Williams used a container to empty water.

The men were able to extinguish the fire and Williams, who was observed to be quite upset, went outside.

Mr O'Hanlon-Rose said Williams' husband found her outside smoking a cigarette standing next to a small patch of burnt grass.

He told her to go to bed and he would clean up the fire damaged mess.

Sometime later he heard screaming from her bedroom and when he opened the door there was smoke and a fire in a pile of clothes beside the bed that was spreading to the curtains.

The husband extinguished the flames.

Realising that the two fires had likely been deliberately lit, and worried about his wife's health, he contacted police.

But police were unable to interview Williams because of her intoxication and she was taken to the watch-house.

Mr O'Hanlon-Rose said Williams was first charged with attempted arson but that was then withdrawn to the two charges of endangering property.

Mr O'Hanlon-Rose said the house was owned by Williams and her husband, and there was no suggestion of any financial motive.

He said her actions showed a degree of "recklessness" and endangered the lives of others.

The matter was open for a suspended jail sentence.

Defence lawyer Shaune Irving said Williams was seriously aware she was facing a jail term, and her actions could have had catastrophic results.

Mr Irving said Williams worked as an Uber driver, and at the time leased the room to a guest through Airbnb.

Mr Irving said that when Williams was released from the watch-house she set about repairing the damage to her home.

"She had been drinking significant alcohol. She instructs that she was not feeling 100 per cent well. She felt depressed at the time," Mr Irving said.

"It appears to be, while a very reckless act, seems to be somewhat out of character in the circumstances.

"It was her house. She paid for the repairs herself."

Mr Irving said it was a victimless crime, and sought that no conviction be recorded as Williams might intend to seek employment in the aged-care industry.

However, Judge Horneman-Wren said that would be very relevant to operators of such care facilities.

He said although no one was injured or died in the fire, the people asleep were (only) woken by the smashing of the glass and the fire alarm, and found the house alight.

He said it was a very difficult argument to convey that it, (Williams's offending) should not be known for someone who may need a blue card or working in aged care.

Judge Horneman-Wren said Williams lit two fires in bundles of clothes when intoxicated and been fortunate the blowing of the glass in the door woke the sleeping men.

He said Williams then lit a second fire and was very fortunate they had been extinguished as they could have resulted in burning down the house and killing both her paying boarder and her husband.

"Your behaviour was quite bizarre. Obviously intoxication played a significant role," he said. "And if you have problems with alcohol causing you to behave this way then you need to address them."

He sentenced Williams to two jail terms of 12 months each (served concurrent), immediately suspended for two years.



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