For­mer Pre­mier Ho­tel li­censee Graeme Cooper could go to trial later this year after of­fi­cially plead­ing not guilty to charges of ar­son and fraud over a blaze which de­stroyed the his­toric pub.

Albany Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - Tim Clarke

The for­mer li­censee of Al­bany’s his­toric Pre­mier Ho­tel — who is ac­cused of burn­ing down the build­ing as part of a mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar in­sur­ance scam — has of­fi­cially pleaded not guilty to charges of ar­son and fraud.

Graeme Cooper, 34, ap­peared via video link from Hakea Prison yes­ter­day to deny the charges stem­ming from the blaze last year.

Mr Cooper also de­nied he had made a false state­ment to po­lice about the fire, which he had claimed was part of a rob­bery of the premises.

Max Saupin, Mr Cooper’s lawyer, said yes­ter­day he was staunchly main­tain­ing his not guilty pleas, and the eight-day trial was pro­vi­sion­ally set for Jan­uary next year, to be held in Al­bany. How­ever, that date could be brought for­ward if wit­nesses are avail­able in Oc­to­ber.

Jus­tice Stephen Hall said in his opin­ion it was im­por­tant the trial was held in Al­bany.

Dr Saupin also said Mr Cooper in­tended to bring ex­pert ev­i­dence about the in­sur­ance pol­icy that cov­ered the ho­tel, and also in­tended to point to ev­i­dence about his plans for the ho­tel, and the cash out­lay he had al­ready made as part of his run­ning of the pub.

Fol­low­ing the in­ci­dent, Mr Cooper told po­lice two men wear­ing dis­guises had con­fronted him in the early hours of May 13, 2016 be­fore al­legedly steal­ing money from the safe and set­ting the build­ing alight.

After de­tec­tives re­leased com­pos­ite images and CCTV footage of the mo­ment of the al­leged at­tack, they then ar­rested two men, be­fore ar­rest­ing Cooper him­self, and then two more al­leged ac­com­plices.

The blaze caused up to $2 mil­lion dam­age, with po­lice orig­i­nally al­leg­ing it had en­dan­gered the lives of four peo­ple in­side at the time.

But those charges against Mr Cooper were of­fi­cially dropped by pros­e­cu­tors yes­ter­day. He will reap­pear in court again in Au­gust.

Pic­ture: Lau­rie Ben­son

Pre­mier Ho­tel’s for­mer li­censee Graeme Cooper sur­veys the fire dam­age last year.

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