A coronavirus-conscious grocery store owner set his own shop of fire to kill any germs after becoming ‘obsessed’ with the virus.
Edward Guy Mason burnt down his store in Western Australia in March at the height of the pandemic.
Mason, 57, packed three shopping trolleys full of cardboard and set them alight before trying to take his own life. Mason then locked himself out of the store, and walked home where he was later arrested.
Despite passers-by seeing the fire and alerting the authorities, $1 million worth of damage was caused to both Mason’s store and his brother’s adjoining hardware store. Mason had run the supermarket for 28 years.
Prior to the arson, the court heard that Mason’s mental health had been declining for six months and the pandemic had made it worse. Mason was said to have been put under a lot of pressure by angry customers and out-of-town panic buyers coming to his store.
People panic buying items left Mason out of stock, something that angered his customers and caused more distress for the 57-year-old. Customers also complained about extra hygiene measures needing to be put in place in the store.
Linking to Mason’s evident poor mental health, his lawyer, Richard Lawson, said Mason then became convinced he had the virus so wanted to burn down the store to protect both his customers and the public. Lawson added, ‘He decided he had to eradicate himself.’
Apparently Mason’s mental health has since improved following his arrest as he has resumed taking anti-depressant medication and was receiving counselling. He has been in custody since March.
Judge John Prior on Mason’s case said he had received 17 character references from people in his local community who describe him as ‘well liked and respected’ in the community. Those behind the references added they were shocked by what Mason had done but had seen the immense pressure the grocery store owner had been under.
While the judge described Mason’s actions as very serious, he also said it was ‘unusual’ and could see the pandemic had a direct impact on the man’s behaviour.
Judge Prior had previously imposed a 16 month sentence on Mason but suspended it noting that Mason had never committed any other offences, had already spent four months in custody and appeared genuinely remorseful for what he did.
While Mason won’t be serving any jail time, the judge did order he pay his brother $479,000 for the damages caused to the hardware store.