Harley Thompson found not criminally responsible for fatal Bomaderry house fire

Written by Javed Iqbal

New South Wales south coast man Harley Thompson, accused of murdering his neighbor in a house fire, has been found not criminally responsible for the death.

The 27-year-old sat in Mid North Coast Correction Center in Kempsey and watched the sentence via video link today as it was read out in Nowra Supreme Court.

Wearing prison greens with a shaved head and mullet, he was quiet and still through the proceedings.

Thompson initially lied to police about starting the fire on July 31, 2020, but later admitted he did.

Cameron Johnston, 49, was killed in the fire.

Thompson had repeatedly threatened Mr Johnson at his Bomaderry home on the night of the fire, smashing windows and shouting obscenities at the man he did not know.

Phone records show that Mr Johnson had called the police and his housing provider in the night to report what happened and that he and his son were “terrified with almost all the windows smashed”.

Mr Thompson then “threw” petrol through the windows of the house and set fire to the curtains.

Neighbors gave evidence that they heard Mr Johnston’s son screaming “Dad, dad, dad” and a short time later heard Mr Thompson shouting “Burn ****, burn”.

They said he later laughed while almost sounding excited.

An autopsy revealed that Johnston died of carbon monoxide toxicity and had suffered burns to multiple areas of his body.

Mr. Thompson’s lawyers said during a trial over the past few weeks that he was not responsible for the crime because he had a mental health recovery.

Prosecutors claimed he had faked his symptoms.

the exterior of a brick courthouse with an arched entrance
The High Court judgment was delivered at Nowra Courthouse.(ABC Illawarra: Ainslie Druitt-Smith)

‘Satisfied’ with the defense of mental health

In his judgment, Judge Michael Walton said he accepted the evidence of two expert psychiatrists as well as clinical assessments.

They diagnosed Mr Thompson with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder or depression with psychotic features.

It created severe delusions and auditory hallucinations.

An expert suggested the symptoms had appeared when Mr Thompson was admitted to hospital in Victoria in November 2019.

Dr. Andrew Ellis gave evidence that Mr Thompson’s symptom of echo des pensée, which he described as “a very technical psychiatric term for hearing your own thoughts spoken aloud”, was not identified at the time.

Judge Walton told the court after considering all the evidence that he was “satisfied that the defense of mental health problems is established”.

“He experienced temporary or persistent disturbances of thought, perception, mood and most likely memory,” Judge Walton told the court.

“The disturbances were considered by the experts to be significant for clinical diagnostic purposes, and the disturbances significantly affect judgement.”

He said that while Mr Thompson also had a substance abuse problem, his impairment was his underlying mental health condition.

“I am satisfied that the accused knew the nature and quality of his act but did not reason with a moderate degree of sense and composure as to whether the act, as perceived by a reasonable person, was wrong,” Judge Walton said .

“The verdict that will come in the indictment is ‘proven act but not criminally responsible’.”

A victim impact statement from Johnston’s son, who watched the sentence via video link, was presented but not read aloud in court.

“I extend the condolences of the court and the community to Mr Johnston’s family and friends and in particular Mr Johnston’s father, brother and son,” Judge Walton said.

The judge ordered Mr Thompson to be detained and supervised by the Mental Health Review Tribunal because of his history of escalating mental illness.

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Javed Iqbal

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