Man pleads guilty over $1.5m A1 Auto store fire

A MAN has been jailed for setting fire to the A1 Auto store, causing extensive damage and financially crippling two neighbouring Pialba businesses.

Tony John Baker, 35, pleaded guilty in Hervey Bay District Court to arson and attempted fraud.

The fire caused almost $1.5 million damage to Sports First and the Arts and Craft Superstore, which were in the same Pialba complex as A1 Auto.

A1 Auto owner Jamie Brown is alleged to have promised Baker and Tony John Welch payment from the $900,000 insurance claim he made the next day, the court heard.

The incident happened on June 22, 2014.

Mr Brown, who is Baker's brother-in-law, has been charged with arson and attempted fraud but is yet to enter a plea to the charges.

Crown prosecutor Sandra Cupina said Baker was aware his brother-in-law was in severe financial difficulties which may end in Brown's mother losing her house.

She said three 20L barrels of brake fluid were found in A1 Auto and the back door to the shop had been left unlocked and a grille removed from a window.

Ms Cupina said two off-duty police officers saw Baker and Welch in the area on the night of the fire.

The pair denied having an involvement in the fire, but Welch later confessed to police.

Baker and Welch both deny they were the one to have set the fire.

It took 19 firefighters hours to control the blaze in the Boat Harbour Dr shop which left the neighbouring stores severely damaged.

Sports First suffered about $1 million in losses while the Arts and Craft Superstore had to pay $5000 for building repairs and lost $9000 in revenue while repairs were made.

"With Sports First it bought a local family to the brink of bankruptcy," Ms Cupina said.

Defence barrister Catherine Morgan said the fire had been an effort to improve the family's financial circumstances.

Judge Ian Dearden sentenced Baker to three- and-a-half years jail to be suspended after 10 months.

Welch was sentenced last year to two-and-a-half years jail with parole after four months.

Mr Brown's matter was briefly mentioned before being adjourned until the region's next district court sittings.

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