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Company director lit Brisbane bedding factory fire, court rules

A fire which destroyed a Brisbane bedding factory more than six years ago was deliberately lit by the company’s director, who then lodged a fraudulent insurance claim, a judge has found.

Brisbane Supreme Court Justice Martin Burns levelled the “grave allegation” against former Cassa Bedding company director John Cassimatis in his decision yesterday (18 Jan) to deny the company’s insurance claim for damages as a result of the 29 August 2015 inferno against Insurance Australia Ltd (AIL), formerly known as CGU Insurance.

Justice Burns, in a 45-page decision, said he was satisfied Cassimatis was solely responsible for the arson which burnt the Yeerongpilly factory premises, 10km south-west of Brisbane, to the ground and resulted in the incineration of all its contents, including Cassa’s equipment, manufacturing supplies and completed stock.

“(After the fire) Cassa promptly made a claim on its policy of insurance with (AIL),” Justice Burns said. “However, after a lengthy investigation, IAL refused to pay the claim, alleging instead that the fire had been deliberately started by Cassa’s sole director, Mr John Cassimatis.”

During a lengthy trial held on numerous dates between 16 November 2020 and 17 September 2021, the court was told that, despite an extensive investigation by Queensland Fire and Emergency Services and Queensland Police Service, no person had yet been charged with any criminal offence in relation to the fire.

Cassimatis, who testified during the trial, denied any involvement in setting the fire.

However, Justice Burns described Cassimatis’ account of his involvement was “from start to a finish a shameless concoction” of lies.

“Mr Cassimatis repeatedly lied under oath and … left me with the firm impression that he had given a great deal of thought to how he might explain away any aspect of the evidence that he believed might implicate him in the starting of the fire,” Justice Burns said.

“Mr Cassimatis was well-versed in the evidence, but there was much of it which appeared to implicate him as the person who had started the fire.

“He advanced a version, at first in writing and then on oath at the trial, in an attempt to supply those explanations.

“Many of them were convoluted, but they probably had to be so, given the damning nature of some of the circumstances he tried to paper over. However, in the end, some of those circumstances, indisputably proven as they were on the evidence assembled against Cassa, simply could not be satisfactorily explained.”

As a result, Justice Burns dismissed Cassa’s claim for damages and entered judgment on the whole of claim.

Despite the fact no person has been criminally charged for the factory fire, Justice Burns found the evidence presented at the trial was beyond the balance of probability – as opposed the criminal law stand of beyond reasonable doubt – that Cassimatis was responsible.

Justice Burns, in his reasons, even provided the likely scenario leading to the fire and Cassmatis’ involvement.

“Mr Cassimatis was alone in the factory at the time when the fires were set,” he said.

“I am satisfied that he was the only person with the opportunity to access the skip through the adjacent door, return inside, light the fire or fires inside, set the alarm, secure the building and then make good that escape.

“After doing so, Mr Cassimatis endeavoured to avoid detection by switching off the headlights to his vehicle at different times and lying to investigators about the time he left the factory.

“The argument advanced by Cassa to the effect that someone other than Mr Cassimatis could have lit the fires, secured the building and then vanished without trace is so unlikely as to barely rise to the level of possibility but, even if such a possibility could be entertained, it must be dismissed as unrealistic.

“On the whole of the evidence I am satisfied that IAL has proved to the standard required that Mr Cassimatis was the perpetrator. That is the only reasonable and definite inference available on the proven facts.

“It follows that, the fire (and resultant loss) was caused by the wilful conduct of Mr Cassimatis with the knowledge and consent of Cassa and, as such, its claim is expressly excluded from cover under the policy.

“It is also a claim that was made fraudulently within the meaning of s56 of the Insurance Contract Act (1984).”

Read the decision.

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