Bouncy castle king jailed for burning down rivals

A bouncy castle business owner who hired men to burn down some rival businesses has been jailed (file photo).

A bouncy castle business owner who hired men to burn down some rival businesses has been jailed (file photo). Photo: Fire Rescue Victoria

James Balcombe had a burning desire to be No.1 in Melbourne’s jumping castle game and his plan to bounce to the top had worked so far.

After paying arsonists to set fire to competing bouncy castle businesses, Balcombe’s company Awesome Party Hire leapt to the top spot on Google.

In fact, his business was so successful he was able to purchase property for the first time in his life.

But Balcombe became worried police would notice his own factory was still standing. His business would have to be next.

He called his arsonist-for-hire Craig Anderson and showed him through his Kangaroo Flat factory, pointing out his jumping castles, and said he would fill up some empty jerry cans with petrol.

On March 6, 2017, Anderson poured petrol across the floor of Balcombe’s shed and set fire to it. As it became engulfed, Balcombe, his wife and son were in a nearby house.

The shed was insured for hundreds of thousands of dollars, which Balcombe planned to pocket.

Three days later, Anderson was arrested. He dobbed Balcombe in to police, naming him as instigator of the fires.

Balcombe had instructed Anderson, who has since been jailed for eight-and-a-half years, and two other men to commit 11 arson attacks over two months between 2016 and 2017.

“Burn them to the ground,” he told them, offering $2000 for every fire.

Many of the fires were unsuccessful, but A&A Jumping Castles was totally destroyed. Anderson threw a petrol bomb through a smashed window, causing a huge blaze that engulfed the factory and destroyed 110 bouncy castles.

The fire caused $1.4 million damage and owners Michael and Aline Andrew lost everything. The couple were forced to close their business and both now work casual jobs in childcare.

Balcombe was charged with 11 conspiracy to commit arson offences and was released on bail in 2017.

He then failed to show up to court for a final directions hearing, with his lawyer handing over a fake medical certificate.

A warrant was issued for his arrest and he was found living in Perth, running a fraudulent stamp operation under the name Paul Johnson.

Once he was extradited to Victoria over the arsons, he pleaded guilty.

Balcombe, 58, appeared by video link from prison in the County Court on Thursday, where he was jailed for up to 11 years.

Judge Stewart Bayles said while Balcombe’s goal may have been to advance his own business by orchestrating the arson attacks, the damage had extended far beyond that.

“It impacted the lives and livelihoods of others, caused significant loss, suffering and emotional trauma,” he said.

He said Balcombe’s offending was persistent. He was so set on destroying his rivals he told Anderson to return to businesses when the initial fire only caused minor damage. One business was targeted three times.

“You could have changed your mind when you saw the damage caused to the property. You could have pulled back, stopped, but you did not,” Judge Bayles said.

Balcombe, who has already served two years and five months, will be eligible for parole after seven years and 10 months.


Topics: victoria
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