The terrible bushfires of late 2019 and early 2020 will be etched in the city’s memory forever.
But these devastating fires did not stop an arsonist, who now has a tattoo along his jawline saying “no comment”, from lighting a blaze at Canberra’s jail.
Footage tendered to the ACT Supreme Court shows 29 December 2019 was an ordinary day in a cell block at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.
Inmates stand around talking and others walk past the cells shirtless. But at about 5:00 pm, Jordan Beroukas went into Cell 7 and, with the help of another inmate, placed a sheet across the cell’s doorway before he lit the sheet on fire then took a seat on a chair outside the door.
The flames spread to other parts of the cell before other inmates rushed to put it out with buckets of water.
Beroukas, 24, pleaded guilty to a count of arson before telling the Supreme Court, on Friday (25 June), he had “grown up a lot” since starting the blaze.
“I didn’t realise how stupid I was at the time, and there was a lot of peer pressure involved, too,” he said.
“I was probably trying to impress people that I shouldn’t have been.
“I can’t really explain why I did it because I wasn’t thinking at the time.”
Prosecutor Marina Lucero asked him if he knew about the bushfires ravaging the country when he lit the fire.
He said while he knew there were bushfires, he didn’t know where they were or how serious they were.
His lawyer, Sarah Avery of Sarah Avery Legal Practice, asked him about his childhood.
“It was sh-t. It was just hard growing up,” Beroukas said. “I tried to behave at school but it was hard. I was a bit of a sh-thead of a kid.”
Beroukas, who was appearing in the court while being in custody for unrelated matters, said he had been in jail for six months “this time”, but had been in and out of prison since he became an adult.
“I first got locked up on my 18th birthday,” he said.
This caused Associate Justice Verity McWilliam to exclaim, “you’re throwing your life away in jail”.
“I know, that’s why I’m trying to change,” he replied.
He said he had just become a father and now had a two-week-old baby.
“I’m just very excited to be a dad,” he said.
Justice McWilliam told him while lighting a bedsheet on fire may have seemed like “a bit of fun”, he was lucky no one had died.
She told the court he now had two life-changing factors in his life: his engagement in rehabilitation and the birth of his child.
The birth of a child, she joked, “is a prison sentence in itself in some ways”.
“A sentence of imprisonment is an absolute last resort,” she said.
“This man, sitting in the AMC, it’s going to do absolutely nothing for him.
“It’s how I can make sure he comes good on us, to put it that way.”
Ms Avery had asked for a deferred sentence and Justice McWilliam said she would hand down her sentence on Monday (28 June).
She told Beroukas he would now be known as a convicted arsonist.
“It’s not a nice label to have for a stupid mistake,” she said.