Centaman has been a market leader in Enterprise Software Solutions for the leisure and recreation industry and both profit and not-for-profit attractions since 1991. It offers a wide range of software…read more
Melbourne party-hire operator charged with multiple arson offences against competitors
One of Melbourne's biggest party-hire operators has faced allegations of arson, insurance fraud and launching cyber attacks on competitors during a committal hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates Court this week.
Awesome Party Hire owner James Balcombe, aged 53, is accused of inciting and paying two men to torch five rival businesses between December 2016 and February last year.
According to a former employee, Balcombe was desperate to dominate the jumping castle market, which had been flooded by 'copycat' businesses who Balcombe felt had 'stolen' his ideas while offering cheaper rates.
According to a report in The Age, two of the arsonists pleaded guilty last year and were given discounted prison sentences after agreeing to testify against Balcombe.
Giving evidence from prison via videolink, they claimed to have been offered $2000 by Balcombe for each blaze, when they met at cafes in Eltham and St Helena in Melbourne's north-east.
Magistrate Sarah Dawes was told that Balcombe provided them with the addresses of the targeted businesses and wanted "maximum damage".
One of the men told the court that he only agreed to be part of the arson plot after he was unable to pay veterinary fees for his injured dog. The other arsonist spent the proceeds of his crimes on methamphetamine binges and alcohol.
A third man, Travis Ransom, of Greensborough, pleaded guilty to four charges in the Magistrates Court last week over his role as a driver in some of the arson attacks.
The string of fires caused more than $2 million worth of damage to businesses in Hallam, Tullamarine, Keysborough, Werribee and Warragul.
Another blaze at a Hoppers Crossing factory almost wiped out one of Balcombe's biggest competitors, A & A Jumping Castles, including dozens of jumping castles, a stretch limo and a mechanical bull.
According to the man responsible for the blaze, who cannot be named for legal reasons, it was the fire that most pleased Balcombe.
He told the court "he told me it was on the news, he was ecstatic, over the moon. He said he wanted them all done like that."
The Court was told that Balcombe became aware that Victoria Police had linked the attacks on party hire businesses after speaking with a friend involved in a relationship with a police officer.
He allegedly hatched a plan to burn his own premises to distract police attention and fraudulently collect an $800,000 insurance payout.
The convicted arsonist told the court that Balcombe showed him around an industrial shed on his Kangaroo Ground property, where stock from Awesome Party Hire was stored.
The man advised "he wanted me to level it. He took me to the location, he showed me which door to go through and which gerry cans were full."
The arsonist, who was sentenced to a 13-year prison sentence, claimed Balcombe was unable to pay when they met at a Safeway store in St Helena on 8th March because his bank account had been frozen.
Detective Senior Sergeant Thomas McGowan told the court that Balcombe had trolled the website of a rival party hire business making several threats against the business and demeaning comments about the owner's wife.
Senior Sergeant McGowan said he was also aware of evidence that the website of another party hire business had been the subject of a cyber attack.
He said the hacker had been traced to an IP address in Qatar, but could not be linked to Balcombe.
A former employee of Balcombe claimed a consultant had been paid $1,000 to remove competitors' websites or change their rankings on the search engine, Google.
Balcombe maintained his innocence during last week's committal hearing and will stand trial in the County Court later this year on 10 arson-related charges.
Victoria Police are continuing to investigate if several inflatable castles that Balcombe claimed had been destroyed in the blaze at his Kangaroo property were transferred to another business before the fire.
Images: Sumo suits from Awesome Party Hire (top) and rival operator A & A Jumping Castles was allegedly targeted by James Balcombe (below). Images used for illustrative purposes only.
5th May 2017 - CLOSED MELBOURNE GO-KART COMPLEX RAVAGED BY FIRE
7th November 2013 - POLICE RELEASE CCTV OF ARSON ATTACK ON SYDNEY TRAMPOLINE CENTRE
25th June 2013 - PLAY CENTRE INVESTIGATED OVER ‘SEX PARTY’ CLAIMS
24th March 2012 - ARSON SQUAD PROBES FIRE AT KWINANA FITNESS CENTRE
13th October 2011 - VANDALS BLOW UP GUMBUYA PARK’S GIANT LYREBIRD
Asking a small favour
We hope that you value the news that we publish so while you're here can we ask for your support?
The news we publish at www.ausleisure.com.au is independent, credible (we hope) and free for you to access, with no pay walls and no annoying pop-up ads.
However, as an independent publisher, can we ask for you to support us by subscribing to the printed Australasian Leisure Management magazine - if you don't already do so.
Published bi-monthly since 1997, the printed Australasian Leisure Management differs from this website in that it publishes longer, in-depth and analytical features covering aquatics, attractions, entertainment, events, fitness, parks, recreation, sport, tourism and venues management.
Subscriptions cost just $90 a year.
Click here to subscribe.
The Complete Guide to Leisure Industry Products & Services.
Whether your goal is increasing your centre's revenues or creating an engaging environment, why not add play to your project? If you're looking for stylish aquatic play features, kid-tested…read more
iEDM integrate Design, Engineering and Delivery Management services to convert existing spaces into exciting new entertainment venues. Our team consists of highly qualified professionals with diverse…read more
At easyemployer we've come up with a software solution that manages one of your most important, and often most costly, business resources - your staff. We are helping 100s of clients to…read more
PathMinder Pty Ltd have partnered with AllUser Industries srl to bring Europe’s most advanced high security portals to the Australian and New Zealand markets. AllUser Industries started to…read more
Tim Batt Water Solutions are at the very forefront of the commercial aquatic business in Australia, with over 30 years specific experience supplying and installing chemical control and dosing…read more
Gladstone Health & Leisure (Gladstone MRM Pty Ltd Australia) is a leading supplier of leisure management and fitness software and is endorsed by leading health and fitness professionals and…read more
Hadley Australia and Series Australia Pty Ltd are the leading quality theatre chair manufacturers in the southern hemisphere. The businesses work closely with architects, interior designers and…read more
get listed with our suppliers directory
Get your business noticed in our targeted directory. Viewed by 10,000 industry professionals per week!