TORCHED: Forensic crews sift through St Vinnies thrift shop in Fernvale after the blaze in 2010.
TORCHED: Forensic crews sift through St Vinnies thrift shop in Fernvale after the blaze in 2010. Melanie Maeseele

Vinnies volunteer acquitted of arson by Court of Appeal

A VOLUNTEER has been cleared of smashing his way into a St Vincent de Paul store and setting it on fire just two weeks after the charity story opened.

Scott Bradley Cormack, 35, was found guilty in June after a trial in the Ipswich District Court related to arson at the Fernvale store on December 30, 2010.

But the Queensland Court of Appeal unanimously overturned the conviction and acquitted him instead in a judgment handed down on Friday.

Mr Cormack was accused of using a metal bar from his car to break into the shop, where he volunteered almost every day, and lighting a fire in the back of the shop causing thousands of dollars of damage to the shop and its goods.

Two minutes after the fire alarm went off Mr Cormack phoned 000 from a phone booth near the store telling them he heard the alarm and could smell smoke.

He told police on the scene he had gone to the shop to pick up a DVD player and a hotplate he was planning on taking from the store.

Mr Cormack said he had a key to the store and wouldn't have needed to break the front window to get in.

But forensic analysis of the metal bar and the denim shorts he was wearing found shards of glass matching that of the smashed door.

Queensland Court of Appeal president Margaret McMurdo said the circumstantial case against Mr Cormack made him a prime suspect.

But Justice McMurdo said after a careful review of the trial evidence, she was not persuaded the glass fragments on his clothing and on his metal bar were from the glass in the store's front door.

She said Mr Cormack's counsel put forward an alternative hypothesis during the appeal that if his client was responsible for the fire and in a panic broke the glass door to cover his tracks, the jury could not be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that he lit the fire deliberately rather than inadvertently.

Justice Duncan McMeekin agreed the prosecution did not quash alternative hypotheses consistent with innocence.

"Reversing a jury decision on such a question is a step that I am reluctant to take," he said.

"Too often the common sense of the jury provides greater justice than the remote considerations of those who have not seen and heard the witnesses. But after a careful review of the evidence I too have come to the view that the verdict is unsafe."


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