Tele/ The South Coast News: Police parents give evidence as judge-alone trial ends

The police officer parents of a former firey charged with lighting seven blazes have taken the stand saying their son was at home when three of the fires were lit.

The police officer parents of a former volunteer firefighter charged with lighting seven fires last year have told the court their son was home at the time three fires were ignited.

The judge-alone trial of former Tarraganda Brigade volunteer firefighter Blake William Banner, 20, ended this week after he pleaded not guilty to seven charges of intentionally causing a fire and recklessly letting it spread.

Crown prosecutors allege Banner lit the fires across five weeks in and around Bega between October and November last year.

Banner’s mother Jennifer Westaway and father Steven Banner, both NSW Police officers, took the stand on December 15 to provide an alibi for their son, telling the court he was at home on November 10, 11 and 13 last year and could not have lit any fires on those days.

Crown prosecutors questioned the truthfulness of the parent’s testimonies, alleging they were covering for their son and had only provided statements almost a year after Banner’s arrest.

“I’m here to help the court reach the truth,” Ms Westaway told the court.

Ms Westaway told the court she didn’t tell lead Detective Senior Constable Clinton Oxenbridge about the alibi, after reading the facts of her son’s case, due to “other things that have happened”, unrelated to her son’s case.

“I just keep away from the (detectives’) office completely,” she told the court.

She told the court, while Banner “didn’t always come straight home” from work, he ate dinner with his family sometime between 7pm and 8pm on the three nights.

Prosecutors allege Banner lit three grass fires across the three days in question, all in the Tarraganda area.

The court heard Banner attended two of the fires as a volunteer NSW Rural Fire Service firefighter.

Ms Westaway told the court her son would regularly drive his red Nissan Navara ute to the Bega River to take photos of himself with his car.

The approximate locations of the seven fires prosecutors allege were started by Blake William Banner over the course of five weeks. Picture: Google Maps

The approximate locations of the seven fires prosecutors allege were started by Blake William Banner over the course of five weeks. Picture: Google Maps

The court heard she sent a text message to her son on November 11 asking if he would be eating at home, and telling him not to drive in the nearby river.

“Yes, and I’m not,” Banner replied via text message.

Steven Banner, a police veteran of 34 years and current highway patrol officer based at Cooma, told the court on the day of the November 10 fire at Murrays Flat Rd, he was at home on a work rest day.

He told the court he watched television until midnight while his son was in his room.

He told the court his son could not have snuck out of the house through a window due to flyscreens, and he would’ve seen him leave through the front or back door of the family home.

When prosecutors questioned why he had initially said in a statement his son arrived home between 5pm and 5.20pm on November 11, and later changed it to 7.30pm, he told the court it was a “mistake”.

He told the court he “vaguely” remembered reading the facts of his son’s case, and that he had chosen to “not read a lot about it” because he was “going through issues” of his own.

He told the court he was not aware of internal emails from Detective Oxenbridge circulating the Bega Police Station last year requesting any information on the case.

“I’m not going to Detective Oxenbridge with anything,” he told the court.

Crown prosecutors claimed he was “reconstructing” the events of the three days to suit his son’s alibi.

He told the court he did not speak to Ms Westaway before writing his alibi statement on his kitchen table at home.

“I told the truth,” he told the court.

He told the court his memory of the days were clear because preparations for an “important” holiday had “failed”.

“Those days were important to me,” he told the court.

The court heard he had also taken five photos of vehicles, similar to his son’s, parked around Bega and Bemboka between January 18 and February 18 this year in order to prove his son’s car was “not distinctive”.

Crown prosecutors told the court none of the cars in the photographs were fitted with P-plates, which Banner’s vehicle was.

Judge Robyn Tupman adjourned the trial to February 26 next year for judgment.

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