Man sits outside patting a dog

Harley Thompson found not criminally responsible for fatal Bomaderry house fire

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 the Mid North Coast Correction Center in Kempsey watching the verdict via a video link today as it was read in the Nowra Supreme Court.

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

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

Cameron Johnston, 49, was killed in the fire.

Mr Thompson had repeatedly threatened Mr Johnson at his Bomaderry house on the night of the fire, smashed windows and yelled profanity-laden abuse at the man he did not know.

Phone records show Mr Johnson had called police and his housing provider on the night to report what was happening and that he and his son were “scared with just about every window smashed”.

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

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

They said he later laughed while almost sounding excited.

An autopsy found Mr Johnston died from carbon monoxide toxicity and had suffered burns to multiple areas of his body.

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

Prosecutors argued he had feigned his symptoms.

The Supreme Court verdict was delivered in the Nowra Courthouse.(ABC Illawarra: Ainslie Druitt-Smith)

‘Satisfied’ with defense of mental health

In his verdict, Justice Michael Walton said he accepted the evidence provided by 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.

One expert suggested the symptoms had presented 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 pensé, which he described as “a very technical psychiatric term of hearing your own thoughts spoken out loud”, was not identified at the time.

Justice Walton told the court having considered all the evidence he was “satisfied that the defense of mental health impairment is established”.

“He experienced temporary or ongoing disturbances of thought, perception, mood and mostly likely memory,” Justice Walton told the court.

“The disturbances were regarded by the experts as significant for clinical diagnostic purposes and the disturbances significantly impact judgment.”

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

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

“The verdict that will be entered on the indictment is ‘act proven but not criminally responsible’.”

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

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

The Justice ordered Mr Thompson be detained and held under the supervision of the Mental Health Review Tribunal because of his history of escalating mental illness.

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