Message from the Chief Commissioner

New task force puts heat on fire lighters

Release date: Tue 10 February 2009

Last updated: Tue 10 February 2009

fire investigation_main 10 Feb

With the death toll from the weekends bushfires expected to rise, Victoria Police has today announced a new Task Force to investigate whether the fires have been deliberately lit in a bid to apprehend offenders.

Some of the state’s most experienced detectives have come together to form Task Force Phoenix with up to 100 police involved.  The unit will also investigate all fire related deaths and prepare inquest briefs for the Coroner in due course working with information supplied by the Disaster Victim Identification team.
The Task Force will come under the command of Crime Department Assistant Commissioner Dannye Moloney who was involved in similar investigations during the Ash Wednesday bush fires in 1983.

Mr Moloney met with the State Coroner Jennifer Coate yesterday to discuss the new Task Force and details about the work to be undertaken by police.

He said police understand that people desperately want answers about the deaths of their loves ones and we would be working tirelessly to attempt to progress cases as quickly as possible.

“We know this is a horrendous time for many families and people need to know what has happened to their family and friends. People simply want answers whether that be the best or the worst news,” Mr Moloney said.

“We will be doing everything in our powers to provide these answers as we understand the need for information so people can get some form of closure and start to grieve.”

“This is painstaking work which will take a considerable amount of time to ensure that the authorities have clearly identified the victims.

‘We are working closely with members from the coronial office, fire and health authorities to progress this forward in a timely manner.”

The Task Force will be in operation for between six and twelve months and will be comprised of a core group of 25 members who will work to support the coroner in investigating the deaths.

However, this number will rise to 50 to 100 members at any one time with Crime Department investigators and regional detectives working together.

The members selected for the Task Force are multi-disciplined and have a broad range of experience and skills.

Mr Moloney called on anyone with information or suspicions regarding deliberately lit fires to come forward and contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

He said investigations were already well underway into fires at Gippsland which police have deemed suspicious. Phoenix is in addition to Task Force Ignus which is currently investigating these blazes.
“These fires have been absolutely devastating and are causing immense pain and loss to many people,” Mr Moloney said.

“If you have information regarding any fire or person you believe responsible we urge you to come forward and help us with our investigations.
The maximum penalty for deliberately lighting fires which result in death is 25 years imprisonment. Arsonists can be charged with intentionally cause and/or recklessly cause a bushfire. This carries a maximum term of 15 years.

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