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Man jailed for burning down jumping castle competitors



A bouncy castle business owner who hired arsonists to burn down his competitors and fled interstate when charges were laid will spend up to 11 years behind bars.

James Balcombe, 58, admitted 11 conspiracy to commit arson charges following arson attacks on several Victorian businesses in 2016 and 2017.

He became obsessed with becoming the best in Melbourne's jumping castle industry when he instructed three men to carry out arson attacks on several of his rivals, paying them $2000 for each fire.

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Balcombe told the arsonists-for-hire to "burn them to the ground".

Many of the arson attacks were unsuccessful, with minor damage caused after Molotov cocktails were thrown into car parks, vehicles or through windows into the front of buildings.

However, A&A Jumping Castles business was totally destroyed by one of the fires and 110 bouncy castles were destroyed causing $1.4 million damage.

Once he became scared police were on his trail, Balcombe paid an arsonist to set fire to his own business to deflect attention and claim back insurance.

The arsonists Balcombe hired ended up dobbing him into police when they were caught.

He was charged in March 2017 and released on bail but did not show up 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.

Balcombe appeared by video link from prison in Victoria's County Court on Thursday, where he was jailed for a minimum of seven years and 10 months, with a maximum of 11 years.

"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 Stewart Bayles said.

"Your offending led to the counterproductive destruction of your own business and property."

Balcombe has already served two years and five months of his sentence.

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