In In the Courts by Clyde Mooney

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The failed owner of Albany’s historic Premier Hotel has pleaded guilty and received ten years over a scam to fake a robbery and arson in order to claim insurance.

Mid-2016 news emerged that lessee Graeme Roderick Cooper – new operator to the 1892 pub – had been beaten and robbed by intruders, who subsequently set fire to the building.

Graeme Roderick Cooper. Image: Facebook

Cooper and business partner Rumeena Nizam had taken over the pub in October 2015, the books showing it had been losing money for the past quarter.

The financial problems continued up until the fire, the pair reportedly tardy on rent at least once.

The Court heard Cooper had approached his friend Scott Jon Gay distressed over the pub’s financials, and asked if he knew someone who could torch the business for the insurance. Gay engaged Christopher Lyndon Paterson and Aaron Mark Hasson, and Karl Hutchinson as the driver.

Patterson and Hasson are seen in the CCTV footage (below) dragging Cooper down a hallway, before the owner reportedly turned off the CCTV, gave the men the money and told them where to set fires.

Four people were staying in the hotel, including one long-term resident who lost most of his possessions in the fire. Cooper alerted and guided them to safety as the fire took hold.

Within weeks investigators had tracked individuals believed to be involved, one of whom fingered Cooper as the mastermind behind the plan.

The struggling publican was arrested and charged in September 2016, alongside four co-accused.

Gay, Paterson, Hasson and Hutchinson were all sentenced last July for their roles in the plan, receiving five years, five years four month, four years four month and three years ten months (respectively).

Thirty-six-year-old Cooper faced charges of attempting to gain benefit by fraud, criminal damage by fire and creating a false belief, and pleaded not-guilty, citing his having no previous convictions.

A trial scheduled for eight days was set to begin in the Supreme Court on Monday, but addressed by Justice Stephen Hall Cooper changed his plea to guilty on all counts, conceding the ploy to stage the robbery and burn the hotel down before lodging an insurance claim for around $3.3 million.

The fire caused an estimated $1.5 million in damages.

Justice Hall sentenced him to ten years, with a minimum non-parole of eight years.