Bouncy castle king jailed for burning down rivals

·3-min read

James Balcombe had a burning desire to be number one 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, his company Awesome Party Hire leapt to pole position on Google.

His business was so successful he had been 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 Ground factory, pointing out his jumping castles and saying he would fill up some empty jerry cans with petrol.

In the early hours of March 6, 2017, Anderson poured petrol across the floor of Balcombe's shed and set it on fire.

The shed was insured and Balcombe tried to claim $1.1 million for the damage.

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

Balcombe instructed Anderson, who was later jailed for eight and a half years, and two other men to commit 11 arson attacks over two months in 2016 and 2017.

"Burn the places to the ground," he told them, offering $2000 per fire.

Many of the fires were minor, but A&A Jumping Castles was totally destroyed.

Anderson threw a Molotov cocktail through a smashed window, causing a huge blaze that engulfed the factory and destroyed 110 bouncy castles.

That 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 counts of conspiracy to commit arson and was released on bail in 2017.

He failed to show up to court for a final directions hearing, providing 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 arson attacks, he pleaded guilty.

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

Judge Stewart Bayles said Balcombe's every waking moment was consumed by taking down his rivals to make his business successful.

"You became obsessed with outdoing your rivals and dominating the market in Melbourne," he said. "You completely lost perspective."

The fires had caused significant loss, suffering and emotional trauma to other business owners, impacting their lives and livelihoods, Judge Bayles said.

Balcombe was so set on destroying his rivals he told Anderson to return to businesses when initial fires only caused minor damage. One business was targeted three times.

"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.