Eight years behind bars for convicted arsonist, fraudster
Society deserves a better world – and that is one without the likes of Stuart McLeod on the street.
With that, a Port Elizabeth magistrate sentenced a convicted arsonist to eight years in jail.
That eight-year prison sentence did not stop McLeod from openly smirking and laughing in the dock on Thursday.
But it was when the next blow came and the magistrate denied his application for leave to appeal that the Port Elizabeth businessman’s attitude quickly changed.
It was perhaps with the realisation that he would be spending the foreseeable future behind bars.
Magistrate Lionel Lindoor said society deserved a better world – and that was one without the likes of McLeod out on the streets.
His family and friends seated in the gallery of the Port Elizabeth Commercial Crimes Court looked shocked as the father of two was led by a court orderly to the holding cells.
Some of his family members even cried.
McLeod was convicted of fraud, arson and obstruction of justice when he set fire to machinery at his Newton Park embroidery business on May 1 2015 and then attempted to claim R6m from Mutual and Federal.
While the insurance firm declined to pay out the claim following a probe, 15 employees lost their jobs when Embroiderite was accordingly forced to shut its doors.
Lindoor said on Thursday that SA was crippled by the corrupt activities of high-ranking officials and businessmen and it was the court’s job to make sure justice was served for everyone, no matter their stature.
He said it was always easier to assess an accused’s moral blameworthiness if he took the court into his confidence as to why he had committed the offence, but McLeod had chosen time and again in court not to do so.
“The court can therefore only speculate on the reason [behind the insurance fraud].
It is therefore entitled to accept that you were motivated by greed,” Lindoor said, adding that McLeod had shown no remorse.
The court, however, opted to deviate from the prescribed minimum sentence of 15 years’ jail, finding in favour of McLeod’s personal circumstances.
At the age of 59, he was a first offender and Mutual and Federal had never actually paid out the claim.
But, Lindoor said, due to the seriousness of the crime and its prevalence nation-wide, direct imprisonment was the only suitable sentence.
He said McLeod had carefully thought out the plan to set a delayed fire at the 7th Avenue premises and his actions had been deliberate and calculated.
He then tried to convince investigators that the CCTV cameras at the premises were not in working order.
In the footage later obtained by police and shown to the court, McLeod could be seen seemingly preparing the delayed fire.“The purpose of sentence is not only about retribution. It must also act as a deterrent to others and provide you with a chance at rehabilitation.”Lindoor said if a non-custodial sentence was imposed, it would send out the message to other would-be offenders that it may just be worth the risk.“You are not a youngster anymore. First offenders should, as far as possible, be kept out of prison, but that is not always [doable].“You are one of those offenders who need to be removed from society.”
Directly after Lindoor imposed the effective eight years in prison, defence advocate Hannelie Bakker brought an application for leave to appeal against both the conviction and sentence.Bakker argued that the court had erred in finding beyond a reasonable doubt that McLeod had committed the offences and had instead placed too much emphasis on his demeanour.The court was also mistaken in finding that McLeod had chopped and changed his version, Bakker said.The sentence was “shockingly inappropriate”, she said.Lindoor disagreed and dismissed the application.