A Melbourne man who posted on Facebook that he wanted to die couldn’t have predicted that emergency crews would be injured while trying to save him, a magistrate has ruled.
Leon Firth, 40, sealed his bedroom with duct-tape, opened a gas canister and posted “suicide…” on his Facebook page in what Magistrate Jelena Popovic described as a serious effort to take his own life.
His Middle Park apartment exploded in a fireball, seriously injuring police and firefighters, when they burst into the flat in a rescue attempt in January.
Ms Popovic on Wednesday found there was no evidence that Firth could have known his actions would place others at risk, and dismissed the 21 charges against him.
But she broke down as she acknowledged the victims’ families in court.
“I can’t begin to tell you how much of a comfort it is to the community to know there are people who act selflessly and valiantly to save the lives of members of our community,” she said.
“I acknowledge and pay my respects to them and their families.”
The victims were supported by their families outside court after her ruling.
Defence barrister Mandy Fox said Firth could only be charged on his actions, not hypotheticals.
“There was no one present when he did this,” Ms Fox said.
“There is no suggestion by anyone that he was doing anything other than trying to kill himself.”
But chief crown prosecutor Gavin Silbert SC said the fact Firth had advertised his intentions on social media meant it was “inevitable” that someone would come looking for him.
Firth posted “suicide…” on his Facebook page, following it by the name of his ex-girlfriend, with “I could’ve given you so much”.
“The actual conduct at the time is put on Facebook and the publication to the world of what he’s doing,” Mr Silbert said.
Mr Silbert said a friend saw the suicide comment and informed Firth’s mother, who rang police.
Sergeant Tony Scully, First Constable Emma Quick and Constable Varli Blake went to Firth’s flat on the night of January 4.
As they entered the home the gas ignited in a fire ball, injuring the three officers, along with three firefighters.
Fire investigation experts told the court the explosion occurred because Firth’s bedroom door was opened, spilling gas into the lounge room where there were multiple potential ignition sources.
They also said Firth would have been unlikely to die or suffer a serious injury from inhaling the 8.5kg bottle of gas, which would have dissipated as he slept.
Ms Popovic said she believed a jury could not convict Firth.
Firth made no comment as he left the Melbourne Magistrates Court flanked by family.
He was facing charges including reckless conduct endangering life, recklessly causing serious injury and negligently causing serious injury.
* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.