Woman pleads to arson over Fruitworks fire

By Myles Peterson

A Shepparton woman pleaded guilty to arson and fraud yesterday following a fire in March that destroyed the rear of a popular fruit shop business on Corio St.

Sandra Rachele of Shepparton deliberately set fire to the rear of the Fruitworks building about 3am on March 1, according to documents tended to the Shepparton Magistrates Court.

She was caught in the act by CCTV footage from an adjacent business, a summary of the events stated.

The day of the fire Ms Rachele fronted the media and spoke to The News.

In April, Ms Rachele was charged with one count of arson and two counts of fraud.

One count of fraud related to receiving a $10000 emergency assistance payment from CGU Insurance.

A second count of fraud and two alternative charges were dropped prior to her guilty plea.

Shepparton police obtained extensive evidence prior to charging Ms Rachele, collecting CCTV footage from adjacent businesses and along the route she drove from her home to the Fruitworks business on the night of the fire.

Documents filed with the court by police said Ms Rachele returned to the building at 3.30am, half an hour after initially lighting the fire, and remained in her car for 90 seconds before driving off again.

About 4.30am, an alarm was activated and a security firm called Ms Rachele, who cleared it and did not attend the scene, the documents read.

About the same time, a passer-by called 000.

The CFA was on the scene within three minutes and extinguished the blaze.

An initial estimation placed damage caused by the fire at $350000, according to police.

After analysing CCTV footage two weeks after the blaze, Shepparton police initiated an investigation and arrested Ms Rachele on April 18.

Yesterday’s hearing lasted less than 10 minutes following an hour of negotiation between the prosecution and defence.

Magistrate David Faram heard Ms Rachele’s guilty plea and ordered her to reappear before the County Court in October.

Mr Faram released Ms Rachele on bail, setting a condition she remained in residence at her home address.

Prosecutor Penny Thorp made no objection to the bail conditions.