Neighbour’s CCTV turns
factory fire alibi into ashes
It seemed like the perfect alibi. While his bedding
products factory was ablaze, John Cassimatis said he was at
home with his family, watching television.
Unfortunately, the alibi did not hold up because of a
different type of television – Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)
showed he was not at home.
As Justice Burns said, the alibi “was from almost start
to finish a shameless concoction” in reasons given in
Cassa Bedding Pty Ltd v Insurance Australia Ltd 
QSC 1 (18 January 2022), a decision of the Supreme Court of
In this article, we examine the decision –
At 9:25 pm on a rainy Saturday evening (29 August 2015),
a CCTV camera on a neighbour’s building in the industrial
park at Yeerongpilly (on Brisbane’s south-side) recorded a
‘glow’ (the first sign of fire) from a skip bin next to the
Cassa factory. It ‘dramatically increased in size and
illumination’ and a second fire was blazing inside the
factory soon afterwards.
At 9:28 pm a passer-by took a photograph on her mobile
phone (Figure 1 below) which showed the fire was well
ablaze. Two minutes later a zoomed shot showed that the
factory building was also ablaze (Figure 2 below).
The factory and its contents, including all equipment and
stock, were completely destroyed.
The state of the business
and the financial motive
Mr Cassimatis was the sole director of Cassa Bedding Pty
Ltd. The shares in Cassa were owned by his family trust. He
been involved in bed manufacture and sales since 199, in
various roles, and had been employed by several national
In early 2014, he registered Cassa and used it to
purchase a mattress manufacturing business in financial
difficulty for ‘about $190,000’. He took over the equipment
leases and premises lease. He rapidly expanded the
operations. He leased additional manufacturing premises
nearby and at the time of the fire was manufacturing around
80 to 120 mattresses per day, and also bed bases and
headboards. In February 2015, he leased a warehouse in
Victoria. He was investigating relocating the manufacturing
to Vietnam, with new equipment.
His forensic accountant estimated that had there not been
a fire, the business revenue would have been $10,700,000,
and that the profit would have been $633,096 over the next
12 months from September 2015.
Mr Cassimatis said he had “nothing to gain and everything
to lose” by burning down the factory.
Insurance Australia (IAG) was not able to prove a
financial motive for ‘Mr Cassimatis to set fire to the
building’, such as ‘Cassa was insolvent at the time of the
This was despite the facts that Cassa was
undercapitalised; had a debt factoring facility with
FactorOne with a recently increased limit of $1.2 million
(personally guaranteed); that its best customer, accounting
for 25% of its sales was a Beds N Dreams franchise in which
Mr Cassimatis’ family was a ‘silent partner’ and which he
knew was “in serious financial difficulty and likely to
fail”; and that a successful claim on the policy of
insurance would fund new plant to replace the ‘existing
plant which was quite old’.
The Court concluded that “the absence of any proven
motive” assumes less importance in this case because “the
evidence connecting Mr Cassimatis to the act of destruction
is so potent”.
The policy of insurance
The IAG policy covered loss or destruction of property
and lost income. The agreed limits were: contents - $2.31
million; stock - $695,000; business interruption $3.4
million (gross income), payroll, increased cost of working,
claim preparation and re-writing of records.
The policy was current. The claim made was $7.6 million.
IAG refused to pay the claim, alleging that the fire had
been deliberately lit by Mr Cassimatis.
Did Mr Cassimatis light the
fire and make a fraudulent claim?
The proceedings were civil proceedings for orders that
IAG indemnify Cassa for its losses under the policy.
The evidence presented by IAG was wholly circumstantial.
It consisted of CCTV evidence, eye witness evidence from the
Fire Officers and the public and forensic evidence by fire
investigation experts. The factory was completely destroyed,
making investigations to identify the source of the fire
impossible. The hearing took 11 days.
From this evidence, the Court made these findings and
drew these conclusions:
- Mr Cassimatis was the only person in the factory
from about 6:30 pm until about 9:25 pm;
- Prior to about 9:25 pm, Mr Cassimatis lit at least
two fires; one outside the factory in the area of the
skip and the other or others inside the building [the
fact that there were two fires at the same time pointed
to arson, if it were one fire it might have been caused
- Both fires were probably fuelled by an accelerant
such as petrol and that was almost certainly the case
for the fire in the area of the skip where the fuel load
must have been dampened by the rain [because the fire
increased dramatically instead of building up gradually
- A delay mechanism was likely employed, at least for
the fire in the area of the skip [to allow Mr Cassimatis
time to leave the scene];
- The fire or fires Mr Cassimatis lit inside the
factory quickly took hold and reached flashover within a
short matter of minutes from ignition [pointing to an
- In consequence of the fire or fires inside the
factory, the factory and all contents were destroyed;
- After lighting the fires, Mr Cassimatis set the
alarm, secured the factory and drove from the precinct
to his home at Mount Ommaney. When driving through the
[industrial] precinct, he kept the headlights for his
vehicle switched off to avoid detection [switched them
back on again]and, as he approached the Yeerongpilly
Railway Station, he did the same thing and for the same
purpose [for 13 seconds – his explanation was that he
was “engaging in some motor vehicle diagnostics said to
have been necessary because a traction warning light
inexplicably illuminated on the dashboard of his vehicle
on his trip to the factory earlier” – it was a Mercedes
sedan – the Court dismissed this as ‘fanciful’];
- Mr Cassimatis later lied to investigators about the
time he left the factory [he said he left the factory
between 8:30pm to 9:00 pm - half an hour before the fire
started at 9:25 pm];
- Mr Cassimatis subsequently caused a claim to be
advanced on the policy of insurance on behalf of Cassa
for the loss caused by the fire. At the time when he did
so Mr Cassimatis knew that, he having deliberately
burned down the factory, Cassa had no entitlement to
advance such a claim. His intention was to induce a
false belief on the part of IAG as to Cassa’s
entitlement to make a claim for the purpose of obtaining
the benefits payable under the policy for such a loss.
It follows that, the fire (and resultant loss) was caused
by the wilful conduct of Mr Cassimatis with the knowledge
and consent of Cassa and, as such, its claim is expressly
excluded from cover under the policy.
It is also a claim that was made fraudulently within the
meaning of s 56 of the Insurance Contracts Act 1984 (Cth).
IAG was therefore entitled to refuse payment of the claim
on the policy of insurance and is now entitled to judgment
on the whole of the claim made by Cassa in this proceeding.
[judgment, paragraphs 156 to 159]
Although there were a number of CCTV cameras in the
factory, even if they were working at the time of the fire
(it was alleged they were not), the footage was stored on a
hard drive on the premises which was destroyed in the fire.
The neighbour’s CCTV was therefore vital evidence because
the Cassa factory was in its field of view.
These days, there are too many CCTV surveillance cameras,
too many witnesses with mobile phones with cameras, and too
many experienced forensic investigators for an alibi such as
not being at the premises to start the fire to succeed.
Although the evidence was circumstantial, it was enough.
The police did not lay criminal charges because of
For a similar ‘factory fire’ case where the
circumstantial evidence was sufficient to support a
conviction for arson see
Bread, cheese and diesel prove arson