A woman accused of setting her government housing rental on fire entered a surprise guilty plea on the day her trial was supposed to start.
Samantha Gaye Chatfield, 30, was scheduled to face what was estimated to be a five-day trial in the ACT Supreme Court on Tuesday (6 July) over last year’s house fire.
But after her arson charge was amended to remove any suggestion she had intended to cause the blaze, she pleaded guilty to recklessly causing damage to her home by fire.
Chatfield, a dark-haired woman with the name “Thor” tattooed across her throat, was able to leave the courtroom on bail. She will be sentenced at a later date. Acting Justice Richard Refshauge discharged the jury for her trial.
The exact details of the offending she pleaded guilty to have not yet been tendered to the court. Previous court documents show she began leasing a house in Coaldrake Avenue, Denman Prospect from Housing ACT in April 2019.
At about 3.15 pm on 6 May 2020, large plumes of smoke were seen coming from the four-bedroom brick home.
As several nearby people ran towards the rental to help put out the flames, Chatfield allegedly got into a red Ford Falcon driven by her then-partner, Thor Sven Kristiansen, now 32.
He had also lived at the house and drove away from the scene before emergency services arrived.
ACT Fire and Rescue arrived about 3:30 pm and extinguished the blaze.
The same evening, Chatfield and Kristiansen went to the emergency department of Calvary Hospital. She allegedly reported she was suffering from smoke inhalation, but she left before receiving medical treatment.
A forensic examination saw the house had suffered “substantial” fire and smoke damage, a partial ceiling collapse in the back and partial consumption of structural load-bearing beams.
According to police, “human intervention was necessary to start the fire”.
Later in May, Chatfield allegedly told a person the fire had started by accident after she had been burning letters in the back courtyard and kicked a jerry can over.
She originally denied starting the fire when arrested by police. When she was arrested in June 2020, police asked if she wanted to provide her version of events but she refused.
“I didn’t do my house; I want to speak to my lawyer,” she allegedly told them.