Black Christmas bushfire victims still battle for compensation

A Stanwell Tops family has finally won compensation for the 2001 Black Christmas bushfires while another is still fighting more than seven years later.Brothers Tim and Damian Lloyd have described their ongoing battle for compensation as a "nightmare".Last year they were forced to take their claim to the NSW Supreme Court.Charred trees still threaten to fall on the men's Otford and Helensburgh properties and Tim has not been able to re-open some of the trails he uses for his business, Otford Farm Trail Rides, because they are too dangerous.Part of their compensation claim includes cleaning up the area devastated by the blaze on Christmas Day, 2001."I've had trees fall while I've had riders out. It's only by God's will, that we haven't had an accident," Tim said.The brothers had wanted to avoid litigation and even asked former premier Morris Iemma to step in.But with the seven-year deadline for initiating court proceedings falling last December, and no sign that a pay-out was near, they were forced to hire a solicitor.Integral Energy accepted responsibility for the bushfire, which destroyed 10 homes, six commercial properties and six businesses, after a coroner's inquest in 2003 confirmed it was caused by sparking power lines along Appin Rd.In July 2006, the power supplier said it had paid $6.9 million to victims and only 4 per cent of claims were not finalised.But it has continued to argue that the Lloyd brothers are entitled to far less compensation than they claim.Until last Friday, Janelle and William McWilliam, whose Stanwell Tops property, Mingara, was destroyed in the blaze, also were waiting to be compensated.They, too, took their claim to the NSW Supreme Court after Integral Energy attempted to slash $500,000 from their awarded compensation.The couple was awarded $950,657.50, with $325,269 already received from insurers due to be deducted.However, Integral Energy sought to also deduct interest on the insurance payments, leaving the couple a further $217,686 out of pocket.The NSW Supreme Court ruled on Friday the utility was wrong and the couple would receive $625,388.The Lloyd brothers are hoping the court also will rule that the "pathetic" offer they received from Integral Energy was insufficient.Damian said the pair would continue to fight until they won fair compensation, but admitted that the drawn-out process meant it was getting harder to prove the extent of the damage."There's less here for them to inspect now," Damian said."It's all hidden by regrowth (and) weed infestation. A lot of the trees that were damaged have come down."Eight years we have been living this nightmare," he added.An Integral Energy spokeswoman was unable to comment yesterday.

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