Matthew Richards and Paris Turkington suffered serious burns at a backyard party in August.
Matthew Richards and Paris Turkington suffered serious burns at a backyard party in August.

Teenager gets probation over fire explosion

A 15-YEAR-OLD boy's moment of stupidity in throwing methylated spirits onto a fire at a Toowoomba party had catastrophic consequences for two teenagers and their families, a Toowoomba court heard.

Paris Turkington, then 16, and Matthew Richards, then 15, sustained third-degree burns to much of their bodies when the fire exploded during a back yard party in Harristown on August 24, 2013.

The now 17-year-old who poured the accelerant onto the fire pleaded guilty before the Children's Court of Queensland in Toowoomba to two counts of negligent act causing bodily harm.

Because he had no other criminal history at all, the teenager's name by law cannot be published.

With family members in court supporting him, he sat in the dock as Crown prosecutor David Jones explained what the Crown believed happened that night.

Fire investigation experts had recreated the scene, a video of which was played to the court showing a fully protected fire officer pouring methylated spirits onto an open fireplace similar to that used at the party.

Mr Jones said experts described the resultant fire ball as "flame jetting" in that the fire had ignited the liquid back into the bottle, effectively turning the bottle into a flame thrower.

Fire burst out in all directions with Paris and Matthew standing nearby and baring the brunt.

Photographs taken of Matthew in hospital soon after the incident were shown to Judge Ian Dearden who described the images of the teen's injuries as "simply horrifying".

Paris and Matthew underwent a number of operations and their recovery was ongoing, the court heard.

Matthew's mother Joanna Way read a victim impact statement to the court (see accompanying story).

However, Mr Jones said though Paris' family had provided a victim impact statement, none of the family was in court, fearing the experience would only add to their trauma.

Defence barrister Robbie Davies said his client was very remorseful for what was a "terrible tragedy" and that it had never been his client's intention to harm anyone.

His client had seen other young people tipping the accelerant on to the fire earlier and had done the same but had poured more liquid than the others.

Mr Davies said the incident occurred during a gathering of a number of young people where alcohol was available with none or minimal adult supervision.

After the incident, his client had been subjected to Facebook threats and had left school, changed his phone number and was left feeling depressed and isolated.

A "massive change" had come over the teen since and department officers who prepared a pre-sentence report for the court on his client spoke highly of him and had found him to be "a respectful young man", he said.

Judge Dearden said he had to balance what was a negligent but not intentional act by a 15-year-old boy with no criminal history against the catastrophic consequences.

Noting the maximum penalty for a juvenile was one year in detention, but acknowledging the lad's excellent prospects of rehabilitation and remorse, Judge Dearden ordered the teen do the maximum two years probation and 200 hours community service.

Judge Dearden ordered the conviction not be recorded.

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