The 80-year-old owner of a Victoria heritage house that was gutted by fire a year ago was arrested Tuesday and held in jail overnight — only to be released Wednesday because charges against him had not been approved.
Earl Large was arrested by Victoria police at his office. He was set to appear in court until, he said, he was told he was being released for lack of evidence.
“They came to me and said the Crown has dropped the charges. Of course they had to. It’s all bogus,” Large said.
“Obviously, there’s errors for them to issue a charge and then to drop them all, and keep me in jail overnight.”
Large said he wasn’t interviewed by police before his arrest and that investigators were on a “witch hunt.”
He said the arrest was intended to put pressure on him.
“There is no evidence against me, none whatsoever,” he said.
Dan McLaughlin, spokesman for the Criminal Justice Branch, said prosecutors review files provided by police and must be satisfied that there is a substantial likelihood of a conviction, and that a prosecution is in the public interest.
“When assessing the strength of the case, the Crown must also consider the likelihood that viable defences will succeed,” he said.
“In this case, the branch could not conclude that the charge assessment standard had been met and, accordingly, charges have not been approved.”
Victoria police did not respond to requests for comment about the investigation that led to Large’s arrest.
The two-storey house at 902 Foul Bay Rd. was a burnt-out shell after the fire on Jan. 25, 2016. It was vacant and boarded up at the time.
Large, the chief executive officer of Large and Co., a development company, said the fire was caused by homeless squatters who came onto the property.
Fire inspectors were unable to enter the house to determine the cause of the blaze because it was structurally unsound.
Large and Co. bought the property in 2014 with the goal of building townhouses in the yard. The company asked Victoria city council for permission to demolish the house, and for removal of the heritage designation.
The company cited contamination as a reason to demolish the house, which had been home to about 100 cats and was covered in mould, feces and urine.
The city’s heritage panel recommended that council reject the request to demolish.
Coun. Pam Madoff said at the time of the fire that other developers had wanted to buy and restore the property. The heritage designation included the exterior of the house, some interior features and the land, including the trees, a stone wall and an iron gate.
After the fire, the city allowed the demolition of what remained of the house. The lot is now empty.
The house was built for lawyer David S. Tait.
Large and Co. has restored heritage-designated properties before, including a property on Dallas Road.