News

Vigilante terrifies teen, escapes jail

By Riverine Herald

AN ECHUCA vigilante who broke into the wrong home looking for an ice dealer — terrifying an innocent teenager — has escaped jail.

The 17-year-old victim was just two days out from his year 12 exams when Aaron Brooke burst into his unit yelling abuse and setting fire to a coffee table during an alcohol-fuelled rage last year.

The father of the teen, who wished to remain anonymous, said his son was extremely shaken up by the incident.

‘‘I guess it could have affected him in that way as he did not get the marks he needed to get into university,’’ he said.

Brooke, 35, had drank almost a full bottle of Vodka on the banks of the Campaspe River when he became angry about Echuca’s ice problem and how it was impacting some of his friends, Bendigo County Court heard on Tuesday.

Judge Howard Mason said Brooke had knowledge of people dealing drugs in the area and decided to take matters into his own hands and deal with them.

Brooke was seen yelling abuse at the front door before entering the unit, where the teenage victim was in the shower.

‘‘He was extremely frightened and waited in the shower until he heard the door close and everything went quiet,’’ Judge Mason said.

‘‘When he emerged from the shower he found that papers and other items on the coffee table in his lounge room had been set on fire. He used a towel to extinguish the flames and then called the police.’’

The victim’s father said he was extremely proud of how his son handled the situation.

‘‘He did all the right things, staying in the bathroom and not confronting the guy. Also, putting the fire out with the towel,’’ he said.

‘‘What scares me the most is that ... it could have been a different story.

‘‘I hate to think of what might have happened.’’

Two hours later, police were called to another disturbance in Pascoe St where Brooke was yelling abuse at the front door of another house. He was arrested there and spent 38 days in custody.

Brooke, who pleaded guilty to one charge each of aggravated burglary and arson, told police he had entered the unit thinking it was occupied by a drug dealer who had stolen money and a phone from a friend.

‘‘Your intention was to scare the person inside who you believe was a drug dealer and tried to set it on fire,’’ Judge Mason said.

‘‘Aggravated burglary is serious offending and would ordinarily attract a significant term of immediate imprisonment.

‘‘Arson is particularly disturbing because of the potential for very serious consequences for property and life through the destructive spread of fire.

‘‘Vigilante conduct concerning any real or imagined drug dealer is also completely unacceptable.

‘‘Your entry to the premises and attempt at damage created a frightening experience for that resident.’’

In sentencing him, Judge Mason took into account Brooke had minor criminal history, including being placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond without conviction in 2004 for charges of theft and obtaining property by deception, and was a chronic alcoholic.

After being bailed in December, the father of one went to residential rehabilitation where he spent four weeks detoxing.

While Judge Mason said addiction was not considered a justifiable excuse for his crime, he took Brooke’s willingness to address it into account.

‘‘Your offending is essentially out of character and explicable by your significant enduring struggle with your mental health problem of alcohol addiction,’’ he said.

Judge Mason sentenced Brooke to a two-year community corrections order, including supervision and treatment and assessment for mental health and alcohol and drug dependency.

He said the 38 days of pre-sentence detention Brooke had served was sufficiently punitive, considering his full-time employment and any community work conditions could affect his rehabilitation.

If not for his guilty plea, Judge Mason said Brooke would have been jailed for two years with a non-parole period of 18 months.

The father of the victim said he hoped Brooke received the help he needed and didn’t try taking the law into his own hands again.