Man 'commanded' to burn St Kilda Pier

Chee Chee Leung
October 30, 2004

The man who set fire to the St Kilda Pier kiosk was close to psychotic and made an unanswered "cry for help" the day before the blaze, a court heard yesterday.

Mike Lee Smith, 34, told a social worker that a voice was commanding him to burn buildings and kill people - less than 24 hours before he destroyed the heritage-listed structure.

Despite saying he thought "the person in his head" should go to hospital, Smith was unable to obtain immediate psychiatric help through The Alfred hospital.

County Court judge John Barnett yesterday criticised the lack of available care.

"If they had worried about it, the crime might not have been committed," he said.

Judge Barnett said he suspected shortfalls in the mental health systems occurred because "those who control the purse strings don't pay enough attention". The prosecution and the defence agreed that the fire could have been avoided if Smith had been given appropriate treatment after he spoke to the social worker.

The court was told he had a history of multiple personalities and suffered a borderline personality disorder.

Judge Barnett said his sentence would take into account that Smith's moral capacity at the time was diminished.

The damage bill from the September 11 fire last year was more than $750,000. Smith has been in jail since the incident.

Smith, formerly of Carlisle Street, St Kilda, pleaded guilty to arson.

He was remanded in custody and will be sentenced on a date to be fixed.