A magistrate has jailed an elderly Coniston man who incinerated his ex-wife’s house within hours of signing it over to her in their divorce.
Krste Kovacevski, 76, used some of his final moments of freedom to clash with news reporters outside Wollongong Courthouse on Monday, at one point exposing himself to a TV crew.
He was jailed hours later, only to be released on bail, pending the outcome of an appeal.
Kovacevski claimed he still owned the Jutland Avenue home in the early hours of August 4 last year, as he poured fuel through its rooms, dropped a lit piece of paper, and retreated a safe distance to watch it burn.
When police arrived, he freely admitted to having lit the fire. He pointed to divorce paperwork and said, "that's where it started", later adding that his “pressure went up” when he was given 40 hours to vacate the home.
On Monday Magistrate Mark Douglass heard Kovacevski had emigrated to Australia from his native Macedonia 58 years ago, taking up work at the steel industry within a week of arriving.
He and his wife, Naumka Kovacevska, separated in 1991 but their divorce was only finalised in 2016.
He lived at the home for 26 years, his lawyer, Paul Paine, told the court. “He used about $180,000 of his superannuation, which was effectively all the super he had … to renovate the house,” he said.
Mr Paine argued that the offence was spontaneous and pointed to his client’s heart condition as among reasons to spare him from a full-time jail sentence.
The court heard Kovacevski had a clean criminal record and had “never been before a court in his life”.
He would likely face further court action, with Mrs Kovacevska seeking the $251,900 cost of rebuilding the house.
“What I haven’t heard, Mr Paine, is whether he’s sorry,” Magistrate Douglass said. “I’ve not seen in any document, ‘sorry, I did the wrong thing’.
After a brief consultation, Mr Paine told the court: “the answer is, yes, he is remorseful”. “What he just said to me [when asked] why, is ‘because my nerves and my pressure have now come down’.”
Magistrate Douglass found Kovacevski had destroyed the house out of spite, having signed it over to his ex-wife in the presence of his lawyer the day earlier.
Magistrate Douglass noted the threat the fire had posed to neighbouring properties, and the need to discourage similar acts of revenge among those going through divorce courts.
“There is generally one party that feels aggrieved,” he said. “My concern is there needs to be a real deterrent in relation to these sorts of actions, particularly something done in spite … and the public safety issue is the principal foundation for this court’s concern. It’s a very serious offence.”
The magistrate ruled that Kovacevski’s age would make prison more difficult for him.
Kovacevski was sentenced to two years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of six months. He has appealed the sentence.
Outside court, the couple’s daughter, Dosta Brsakovska, said the fire that has destroyed her mother’s nest egg and created great sadness in her family.
She said she was not surprised that her father had opted not to apologise.
“He wouldn't say sorry,” she said. “That's degrading himself.”
“He would have done it on purpose – it was just his way - ‘I'm the boss, I’m the man of the house’.
“I don’t like what he's done, but I still feel sorry for him. But he doesn't feel sorry for anyone.”
Mrs Kovacevski was living in a nursing home as a result of the fire, her daughter said.
“She's stressed. What's she going to do? That was her house that she could live in, move into, instead of living at the nursing home,” she said.
“My mum's put up with a lot, this is just a small thing, to be honest with you.
“She goes back to square one now.”