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Wellington County arsonist finally sentenced

Justin Beal was sentenced to 21 months in jail for the five fires he set in rural abandoned buildings in 2016 and 2017

This article has been corrected, removing a sentence that said Beal turned himself into police and removing that Beal had a firearms prohibition as part of his probation.

The long, drawn-out court proceedings of the man guilty of setting a series of fires in Wellington County several years ago have finally concluded.

Justin Beal, 31, was sentenced to 21 months in jail and three years probation on five counts of arson Thursday at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

The fires he set were in vacant rural buildings from October of 2016 to June 2017.

In a sentencing hearing at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice Thursday, Judge Bruce Durno also ordered Beal to pay a combined $39,000 in restitution to two of the property owners. He was given 10 years to pay it.

Beal made no comment at the sentencing and was led away by court officers immediately after it ended.

Crown attorney Judith MacDonald had been seeking a sentence of two years less a day.

Defence lawyer Robbie Tsang asked for 18 months.

Other than court officials, the only people in attendance were his mother and one reporter.

Beal was originally charged with setting seven fires.

The five fires that Beal was convicted of setting were among the 27 fires that occurred over a 12-month period, the vast majority in abandoned or vacant buildings and always in rural settings throughout Wellington County.

Nobody was injured in any of the fires and only one of the properties was livable.

“He said he lit the fires because lighting fires was a fetish, for personal issues, (related to) debt relief and his family,” Justice Durno said in delivering sentence.

In turning himself in, Beal told police he did so out of concern that a firefighter would end up getting hurt.

“That was the last thing he wanted on his conscience,” Justice Durno said.

Sentencing submissions had friends, neighbours and family of Beal describing him as “loving, caring and thoughtful” who was reliable and a hard worker. He is employed and his boss has promised to hold his job for him once he is out of prison.

Victim impact statements spoke of the fear the fires created, both for property owners and, in a letter from Guelph Eramosa Township Mayor Chris White, in the community in general.

The first fire was in an abandoned two-storey farmhouse Oct. 14, 2016, at 5230 Third Line in Guelph Eramosa Township. He started the fire by throwing a cigarette in a bush beside the house. Beal eventually became trapped in the house by the fire and had to escape by jumping out a second-storey window.

The second fire was on Oct. 19, 2016, in a century stone farmhouse at 5292 Third Line in Guelph Eramosa Township. He started that one by setting fire to a Lazy Boy chair.

On Feb. 3, 2017, he started a fire in an abandoned bike shop at 6873 Highway 7, using a lighter to set fire to some insulation.

The last two fires both occurred on June 25, 2017, a gatehouse on the Third Line of Guelph Eramosa Township and a vacant home on Wellington County Road 125. In one Beal started the blaze by setting fire to drywall with a lighter, at the other he set fire to a blanket in the basement.

The sentence included a DNA order and that Beal not have any incendiary devices – including lighters or matches – in his possession.

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