Man?s burning revenge

MICHAEL Graham Hayward ended a reckless night of drunken crime naked in a swimming pool, watching his ex-partner's house burn down.

The next-door neighbour found Hayward in the pool after he saw flames coming from the Rubyvale house early on June 15 last year.

When the neighbour asked Hayward what had happened, he replied: "I was trying to light a cigarette''.

Yesterday Hayward, 45, was sentenced to four and a half years jail after pleading guilty in Rockhampton District Court to nine charges, including arson, drunk and disqualified driving and stealing a truck and an 18kg gas bottle.

Judge Alan Wilson described Hayward's spate of offending over two months as a "spectacularly rapid downhill spiral'', triggered by a relationship breakdown.

The offences included serious drink-driving offences in April and May 2005.

During a drinking binge on June 14 and 15, Hayward stole the truck and gas bottle from his former boss in Emerald and then drove 60km to his ex-partner's home where she lived with her son.

They weren't home when he arrived. The ex-partner had gone to a friend's house after Hayward had rung the previous day to attempt a reconciliation following their break-up in April.

Hayward entered the empty house and a short time later it was in flames.

A gas bottle was found near the rear of the house which was destroyed. The damage was estimated at $40,000.

Barrister Jeff Clarke said Hayward was extremely remorseful but was so drunk on the night of the fire he could remember little of the events.

He said he had a long-term drinking problem and was battling emotional problems.

Prosecutor John McGrath said Hayward may have been very drunk, but was still cunning enough to steal a truck and gas bottle and had the sense to retreat to the swimming pool after lighting the fire and suffering minor burns.

Mr Clarke said Hayward had signed over his share of a property to his ex-partner to compensate her for her loss.

Judge Wilson ordered his jail sentence be suspended after 18 months for an operational period of five years.

He has already spent 293 days in custody.

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