TWO brothers accused of setting four bushfires that threatened properties and forced evacuations at Kurri Kurri on two of the hottest days of 2017 had an “agreement” that one brother would set the blazes and the other, a retained firefighter, would be paid to extinguish them, police allege.
Retained NSW Fire and Rescue firefighter Joshua Lambkin, 29, of Weston, and his younger brother, Craig Talman Lambkin, 27, of Singleton, stood in Newcastle District Court last week and pleaded not guilty to lighting four fires at Kurri Kurri, Loxford and Chinaman's Hollow during a 40-degree heatwave on January 18 and January 24 last year.
Joshua Lambkin, who has since been suspended from his duties, also pleaded not guilty to a charge of concealing from police that he knew his brother was responsible for lighting a fire that raged in bushland between the Kurri Kurri cemetery and a public swimming pool on January 24. The pair will face an estimated four-week trial in Newcastle District Court starting in March, 2019, during which the prosecution will allege they were engaged in a joint criminal enterprise to set the fires.
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The court heard the prosecution case will hinge on CCTV footage, hundreds of text messages and telephone intercepts and the evidence of 19 witnesses.
Detectives investigating an “unprecedented number of bushfires” initially arrested Craig Lambkin after witnesses claimed they saw him riding his bike away from the blaze behind the Kurri Kurri Aquatic Centre.
That fire burnt out of control for hours, “placing the lives of many civilians and emergency services personnel in considerable danger”, and forced the evacuation of the swimming pool, surrounding properties and the Kurri Kurri Hospital.
But after examining Craig Lambkin’s phone records and speaking with Joshua Lambkin’s colleagues – who said he arrived at the Weston fire station “pumped up”, “excited” and dressed in his firefighting “blues” before the Kurri Kurri fire was broadcast – police formed the view that Craig and Joshua had been discussing the fire at the time it was being lit.
“The Crown allege that there was an agreement between the brothers where by Craig Lambkin would light the fire and Joshua Lambkin would receive the financial gain by being paid to put it out,” a Crown case statement said.
After investigating further, police charged Craig and Joshua with three blazes that had been lit at Loxford, Kurri Kurri and Chinaman’s Hollow in horrific fire conditions on January 18.
Two of those fires raged out of control, burning through hundreds of hectares and trapping motorists on the nearby Hunter Expressway.