At the start of December last year, Marion Hodge and Kevin McLeod were the proud owners of a renovated steakhouse, revelling in finally realising their long-held dream to become restaurateurs.
Then Brian Oliver came along.
With the jemmy of a screwdriver and the use of an accelerant, Dapto’s newest eatery, Ace of Steaks, was a charred mess.
Oliver on Friday faced Wollongong District Court on a string of charges stemming from a crime spree late last year that included breaking into Ace of Steaks restaurant and later setting fire to the premises.
The court heard Oliver and another man forced their way inside the building that housed the new restaurant in the early hours of December 2 last year, then gained access to the eatery through the roof cavity.
Once inside, they allegedly stole the cash register and a tip jar before fleeing.
However, the court heard Oliver’s companion ‘‘became paranoid’’ about leaving fingerpints at the scene and decided the place needed to be torched.
While Oliver acted as a lookout, the co-accused allegedly doused the inside of the store in diesel and attempted to set it alight.
But it failed to ignite, prompting the man to source petrol, which he mixed with the diesel before setting it alight, the court was told. The ensuing fire caused significant damage to the building’s interior and structure.
Facing court on Friday, Oliver said breaking into the restaurant was more opportunistic than pre-planned.
However, he said it was never his intention to be involved in setting the restaurant on fire.
He blamed his co-accused for the crime, saying he tried to convince him not to do it.
The court heard Oliver had been a casual ice user in the months before his crime spree, however, began to use it daily while on holidays for 10 weeks from his job as an apprentice diesel mechanic.
His continued ice use when he returned to work cost him his job and led to his downward spiral, he said.
Oliver admitted to his involvement in a string of crimes between September and December last year, including breaking in to premises at Dapto and Kembla Grange and stealing laptop computers, credit cards, tools and jewellery.
He blamed his behaviour on his ice addiction, but told the court he was deeply sorry for his actions and the hurt he’d caused.
‘‘I know I can’t take back what I’ve done but I’m sorry to the victims and the victims’ families,’’ he said.
‘‘I’m sorry to my family for letting them down.
‘‘I’ve got a lot of [younger family members] who look up to me and I’ve let them down.’’
Oliver will be sentenced next Friday.