SPECIAL FEATURE: Arsonist lives high life while victims suffer
HE DIDN'T have the guts to do it himself.
Instead, Jamie Jeffrey Brown enlisted his brother-in-law and another man to do his dirty work, orchestrating an arson attack that would leave his neighbouring business devastated and eventually land him behind bars.
At war with Auto Barn over his failure to meet the franchise standards, he renamed the business A1 Auto and took out a new business loan. His mother put her house up as security. She would later lose it to the bank but not before Brown had run up hundreds of thousands in franchise fees, unpaid staff superannuation and tax.
Brown could have admitted defeat but as Hervey Bay District Court heard on Wednesday, he "hatched a plan to burn the business" as a "quick fix".
In the weeks before the fire Brown asked his insurance company to increase his business cover. He then bought four, 20 litre drums of brake fluid. On the day of the blaze he was seen taking off the grill on his back window, leaving the window open and going home where the court heard he believed he would be safe and could use his then fiance as an alibi witness.
Crown Prosecutor Katrina Overell said Brown was lacking in remorse and had wasted court time in the face of an "overwhelming prosecution case".
Brown maintained the ruse right up until a jury had been selected for his trial on Monday.
Pre-trial evidence from his sister and a statement from his ex-fiance however proved to be the final "nail in the coffin" for Brown who pleaded guilty to arson and attempted fraud on Tuesday.
Defence barrister Malcolm Harrison said while he understood it was "not indicative of remorse", Brown's plea had at least saved the cost of the trial and calling more than 30 witnesses.
He said his client lacked a father figure growing up but had a strong work history and a "long future ahead of him".
The woman Brown had betrayed was in court to watch yesterday's sentence. She sat behind Brown's new partner who mouthed 'I love you' to him throughout the proceedings.
Brown was sentenced to six years in jail.
The sentence brings to a close the darkest chapter in the lives of Dale and Nikki Paxton who still grieve over the senseless destruction of their business.
According to Ms Paxton, Brown had walked into her store in the weeks before the fire and casually asked if her stock was insured.
The morning after the fire he is said to have told the SportFirst staff there was nothing more he could do and suggested they all go to an Esplanade pub where he was seen later that day.
Things only got worse for the Paxtons who had to close their shop for a month only to find out the insurance company would pay no more than a pittance of the $1 million damage bill which has left them more than $600,000 out of pocket.
They are determined to trade their way out of debt but the scars remain.
"He nearly sent us bankrupt - the stress it caused to our marriage and our family was unbelievable," Mr Paxton said.
"By the time we re-opened the customer base had deserted us. We are only getting back on track now and will never fully recover financially.
"He was only thinking of himself - it is the most selfish act."
Outside court, investigating officer Sen Sgt Mick Polit said a trail of previous insurance claims caused police to suspect Brown from the beginning.
He said he was disappointed to hear Brown had enjoyed a Bali holiday while victims suffered.
"With those debts, which amount to hundreds of thousands still owed, I know a lot of the victims were upset about that," Sen Sgt Polit said
"It probably shows a bit about his character and lack of remorse.'
Brown must serve at least two-and-a-half years of his sentence before he is eligible for parole.