OUTSIDE COURT: Matthew Eric Garner entered a not guilty plea to the charges of arson, and entering a dwelling with intent.
OUTSIDE COURT: Matthew Eric Garner entered a not guilty plea to the charges of arson, and entering a dwelling with intent. Annie Perets

Accused car arsonist, who was dobbed in by mate, on trial

IS HE an arsonist, or has he been framed by a so-called friend?

A sleepover at a mate's place almost three years ago ended in Matthew Eric Garner's arrest after a car inside a garage at a nearby street was set alight, a court has heard.

Police allege a female retiree, who was aged 88 at the time, tasked two young men to burn the car as an act of revenge on a neighbour, luring the vulnerable boys with the promise of money.

Mr Garner's friend - who hosted the sleepover - has already pleaded guilty and has been sentenced for starting the blaze.

The friend told the Hervey Bay District Court on Monday that Mr Garner was with him from start to finish during the infamous night.

However Mr Garner, now aged 20, denies having had anything to do with it.

It's up to a jury in the trial, which continues on Tuesday in court, to decide who is telling the truth.

A scene of chaos unfolded in a quiet part of Urraween in the early hours of November 25, 2015 after a golden Toyota Tarago was set alight inside a garage.

Emergency crews were called as smoke began to billow from the home, residents rushed outside, and one neighbour even chased after a person they saw fleeing the scene.

The other young man already sentenced, who the Chronicle cannot name as he was a juvenile at the time of the offence, was given a two-year probation order and ordered to complete 120 hours of community service on the charges of arson and entering a dwelling with intent.

Taking the witness stand on Monday, he spoke about using methylated spirits and a lighter to start the fire after walking through an open door of the garage.

The jury was told he had listed names of other people who lived in the area when questioned about the incident before taking blame, and dobbed in Mr Garner during a police interview.

The court heard he received a more lenient penalty for his charges by making the promise to testify against Mr Garner.

He spoke in front of the jury about himself and Mr Garner running away from the scene together however a neighbour, who went on the foot chase, described seeing just one person fleeing the fire.

The young man said the retiree originally promised him $20,000 for burning the car.

The court was told the retiree had helped buy the car for the neighbour but then allegedly decided she wanted it destroyed after the pair's relationship soured.

The court heard there is no forensic evidence proving Mr Garner's involvement. Police found two pairs of damp sneakers and two jumpers when they searched the sleepover house, which they allege were worn by Mr Garner and his friend during the alleged crime.

Mr Garner was originally meant to be trialled with the retiree, who is now 90, but her deteriorating health has caused the extensive delay and a change of plans.

The trial continues today.



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