Judge sentences ‘irrational’ sister who lit up house

THE actions of a mother who threatened to kill herself as she set fire to her sharehouse has been described as "irrational" and "spiteful".

Rebecca Joy Whitehorn set fire to the home she shared with her sister, yelling "if you come in here, I will kill myself" as police tried to help.

Charters Towers police were called to a property in Marsland Road on January 18 after a fight between Whitehorn and her sister escalated.

The pair had been arguing over rent money and things got out of hand after Whitehorn struck her sister with an "unknown implement", the court heard.

It was told Whitehorn had discovered money she gave her sister for rent was used for other purposes.

Whitehorn's sister then left the house and called police.  

Townsville District Court heard the 32-year-old had moved in with her sister in order to regain stable accommodation.

Crown Prosecutor Andrew Lowrie said when police arrived at the house, Whitehorn was standing in the doorway with a knife to her throat, threatening to kill herself if they came closer.

Police were forced to call in a negotiator and Whitehorn's mother to the scene.

"After about 40 minutes, the accused set the house on fire while she was still inside," Mr Lowrie said.

"She confronted police with a knife as they tried to extract her from the burning building. One of the police officers received some burns as he attempted to escape from the burning building."

Police were forced to taser Whitehorn to remove her from the house.

Whitehorn pleaded guilty to arson, assault and serious assault on November 30.

Mr Lowrie said Whitehorn's sister lost precious valuables in the fire, which razed the rental, including mementos of her children who had died.

The fire caused more than $420,000 of damage.

"The accused told officers various times that she did this so the mother would listen to her," Mr Lowrie said.

Defence barrister Darin Honchin said the mother of five was remorseful and had made significant steps to improve herself, including taking parenting classes, while she was in prison.

He said his client had told doctors and police after the incident she did not intend to kill herself.

Mr Honchin asked for Judge Gregory Lynham to be lenient in his sentencing because Whitehorn had made an effort to turn her life around while she was in prison.

"This is not intended to hurt anyone, not intended to hurt the owner of the house, it was not intended to hurt the sister, they were the consequences, but it was not her intention to do those things," Mr Honchin said.

However, Mr Lowrie argued that there were "other ways to cry for help without destroying a huge part of someone's life".

Judge Lynham said the presence of her sister, mother, friend and six police officers at the scene did not deter her from setting the house alight.

He said the act could be characterised as "irrational anger" as a consequence of the argument with her sister.

"It may well be an element of spite or nastiness to your behaviour," Judge Lynham said.

Judge Lynham opted to allow Whitehorn to serve less than one third of a four-year head sentence.

Her sentence will be suspended after 14 months, taking into account the 319 days she had already spent in custody. 

Originally published as Judge sentences 'irrational' sister who lit up house



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