Bouncy castle ‘mastermind’ guilty of arson
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Bouncy castle ‘mastermind’ guilty of arson

James Balcombe was obsessed with taking out his rivals and leaping to the top of the bouncy castle industry when he devised a plan to burn down the competition.

The 57-year-old has pleaded guilty to 11 charges of conspiracy to commit arson at several Victorian bouncy castles in 2016 and 2017.

The Victorian County Court heard that Balcombe ordered three men to carry out arson attacks on his competitors and then on his own business, paying them $2,000 for each fire.

Bouncy castle 'mastermind' guilty of arson | The Canberra Times | Canberra, ACT

Balcombe started working in the bouncy castle industry in 2010 and was “obsessed” with becoming the best in Victoria, his lawyer Simon Kenny said.

“His drive was to become the most successful businessman in this bouncy castle rental business, completely losing perspective,” he said.

“He wanted to bankrupt his competitors.”

Many of the arson attacks were unsuccessful, with minor damage caused after Molotov cocktails were thrown into parking garages, vehicles, or windows in the front of buildings.

However, Michael Andrew’s A&A Jumping Castles business was engulfed in a major fire perpetrated by Anderson at Balcombe’s behest.

The January 2017 arson caused $1.4 million in damage to the company and destroyed 110 bouncy castles.

Mr. Andrew said, “18 years of hard work went up in flames”, in a statement read to the court.

His wife Aline described Balcombe as a “mastermind” and said she lived in fear and worry about what else he could do after the attack.

“Eight seconds is enough to destroy 18 years of our livelihood,” she said.

In March 2017, when Balcombe learned that police were investigating the fires, he organized for Craig Anderson to set fire to his own company, which was insured for more than $1 million.

His co-defendants – Peter Smith, Anderson, and Travis Ransom – have already been convicted, but Balcombe fled to Perth after failing to appear for a preliminary hearing in December 2018.

He went by the name Paul Johnson and started making fake stamps until his plan fell apart when the AFP investigated the stamp operation.

The AFP told Victoria Police of Balcombe’s whereabouts in August 2020 after he searched his home with Dianella. He opened the door with a wig.

He pleaded guilty to stamp and arms offenses in WA before being extradited to Victoria to face arson charges and a false document charge after using a fake medical certificate to get out of court.

Prosecutor Nick Batten said Balcombe was motivated by greed, seeking to take out his corporate rivals and defraud his insurer.

“He wanted to be number one on Google and less competition from others,” he said.

Kenny denied that his client was a criminal mastermind, saying that once the fires started, “it basically snowballed”.

He said Balcombe, who appeared via video link, suffered from a personality disorder, which hindered his ability to make wise decisions.

Kenny urged Judge Stewart Bayles to give Balcombe a cumulative sentence and not punish him for each of the 11 arson attacks and attempts.

Balcombe was remanded in custody to be sentenced at a later date.