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Alberta vet convicted of arson at home of B.C. lawyer based on cell records

An Alberta veterinarian has been convicted of arson for torching the garage of a B.C. lawyer who was involved in his daughter's child custody dispute.

At trial, Scott Clifford claimed he was in Camrose, Alta. at the time the arson was set on June 2, 2013, at the home of Patrick Dearden, a semi-retired lawyer living in Cranbrook.

But B.C. Supreme Court Justice George Macintosh concluded that Clifford was lying.

The judge found that Clifford's cell phone records placed him in Cranbrook after 1 a.m., around the time the fire was set at Dearden's 35-acre orchard property.

The judge also noted that Clifford had bought a night-vision monocular two days before the fire, which would allow a person to walk through the rural Dearden property at night without using a flashlight and not trip over rocks and branches.

The fire set to Dearden's garage destroyed all the contents, including a car, skis and family silverware.

Dearden rescued two vehicles parked near the garage by moving them further from the fire. He had only small hoses to ensure the fire did not spread to the house.

Before the fire, Clifford had made a series of angry phone calls and emails to Dearden, whose daughter Diana had lived with Clifford but they broke up before she had a child in 2010.

Clifford had tried to gain custody of the child but lost the family court case in January 2013.

Patrick Dearden often dealt with Clifford over the phone, resulting in Clifford feeling Dearden was “meddling where he did not belong,” the judge said.

“I WILL NOT GIVE UP MY SON TO YOU PEOPLE,” Clifford wrote in one email.

The court judgment noted Clifford now is married and has a child with his wife. They live in Camrose, Alberta, about a seven-hour drive from Cranbrook.

Before the fire, dozens of sharpened and bent spikes had been scattered on the Dearden driveway. The night of the fire, a dozen trees in Dearden's orchard had been “ringed” -- the bark stripped all the way around, which kills a tree.

The judge also found Clifford guilty of mischief for destroying the trees.

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