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Arsonist who scrawled lewd message about Brian Houston jailed over $1.3m fire


A former youth minister who lit a fire inside the grounds of the Hillsong church in western Sydney and scrawled lewd graffiti about the mega-church’s founder Brian Houston has been jailed.

Stephen Anthony Luke, 47, learned his fate in a NSW Mid North Coast courtroom when he was sentenced for a five-day crime spree which also included causing $1.3 million in damage to a Lismore Catholic Church.

His rampage began on September 14, 2020 when he approached a 20-year-old woman inside a Sydney car park, produced a 30cm knife and stole her Volkswagen Polo, phone, credit cards and $375.

He also attempted to rob two young women at Hornsby train station, however they refused to go to an ATM to withdraw money, despite pulling a knife on them.

Coffs Harbour District Court heard that on September 16, he lit a fire inside the grounds of the Hillsong church at Norwest in northwestern Sydney.

Stephen Anthony Luke was last week jailed for lighting a fire inside the Hillsong Church grounds. Supplied.
Camera IconStephen Anthony Luke was last week jailed for lighting a fire inside the Hillsong Church grounds. Supplied. Credit: News Regional Media

Using pink spray paint, he scrawled graffiti on the side of the church that Luke’s ex-wife’s current husband “sucks Brian’s c*** like a prison b****”, in a message which referenced the church’s founder Brian Houston.

He then used an accelerant to light a fire in the garden next to Mr Houston’s parking space, which was put out using a hose and did not spread.

In all, he caused $3000 worth of damage in what Judge Jonathon Priestley described as “a fairly unsuccessful attempt at damaging the property by fire”.

The court heard that Luke lit a further fire at Mr Houston’s home, however was not charged over the incident.

Two days later, he had reached Lismore, where he set fire to St Carthage’s Catholic Church using a piece of material stuck under the door.

He caused over $1.3 million in damages, destroying books, pictures and silverware.

“The fire engulfed the large northern door to the Cathedral and attempts to extinguish the fire caused smoke and water damage to the Bishop‘s sacristy and the Sacred Heart altar,” Judge Priestley said.

Hillsong Epicentre
Camera IconLuke set fire inside the grounds of the Hillsong church in northwestern Sydney. Credit: News Corp Australia, by Mark Scott

In a Facebook post, he admitted that he had set fire to Lismore Cathedral, Hillsong Church and Mr Houston’s home.

He also referred to conspiracy theories about “big pharma” and the government.

“In another Facebook post he said he had nothing to lose and everything to gain to live in Christ and die in a hail of police bullets,” Judge Priestley said.

He was arrested during a violent confrontation with police at Lismore on September 19.

When he was stopped by police, he pulled out a large silver hunting knife and told an officer “shoot me”.

When he was ordered to put the knife down, he made slashing motions at the officer before he was pepper sprayed and tasered.

He later told officers that he had not taken his medication for his mental health problems for six months and that he had no associations with the Hillsong church.

Luke caused $1.3 million worth of damage to a Lismore church.
Camera IconLuke caused $1.3 million worth of damage to a Lismore church. Credit: News Regional Media
Firefighters extinguished the blaze at the Catholic cathedral in Lismore however it caused extensive structural damage.
Camera IconFirefighters extinguished the blaze at the Catholic cathedral in Lismore however it caused extensive structural damage. Credit: News Regional Media

His solicitor previously told the court that the events were a “wake-up” call and that he would take his medication for the rest of his life.

The court heard that at the time he “felt compelled to obey the voice in his head” and he believed it was “part of God’s plan, part of his mission as a soldier”.

He also described his offending as “horrendous” and the court heard that he had planned to buy a car, but blew $900 on the pokies and it was then that he robbed his young victim.

A forensic psychiatrist’s reports found he was suffering a schizoaffective disorder and that the offending occurred over five days during a period of mental ill-health after he stopped taking his medication.

He pleaded guilty to a string of offences including two counts of intentionally damaging property by fire and robbery while armed.

Judge Priestley took into account his early guilty plea and gave him a 25 per cent discount on his sentence.

He was sentenced to seven years in jail, with a non-parole period of three-and-a-half years.

With time served he will be eligible for release in March 2024.



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