Farm manager jailed for arson and burglary

A farm manager has been jailed two years after lighting a fire at his Central Otago employers' home, then his own, endangering his wife and children.

Shane James Lyon (39) appeared by video link in the Queenstown District Court before Judge Bernadette Farnan today for sentencing on charges of burglary, arson and making false statements to police.

The court was told the defendant lit a fire at his employer's home and staged a burglary in a bungled attempt to cover up his ongoing thieving of cash from the couple.

The next day he lit a fire in his own home on the farm, traumatising his children and putting his wife in hospital. He then repeatedly lied to police about the incidents.

The offending occurred over the course of nearly a year from September 1, 2018, when Lyon began living and working with his family on Olrig Station, a 6000ha property in the Galloway area near Alexandra.

Soon after Lyon arrived on the farm, his employers Elliot and Nichola Heckler noticed cash going missing from their kitchen, mainly small amounts - but on a few occasions a few hundred dollars.

The owners set up covert trail cameras around the property as a security measure, but these were mysteriously stolen or disabled.

On August 13, 2019 while the owners were away, Lyon went to the homestead, took $180 cash from the kitchen, put a tea towel in the oven and turned it on, the court was told.

He then broke into a gun cabinet and took out four rifles, loading some and arranging them in a way to give the appearance they had been dropped by fleeing burglars.

Having second thoughts about the arson, Lyon returned to the kitchen and turned off the oven - but not before it had been destroyed by the fire.

Lyon later told police he had disturbed burglars before dousing the blaze.

The court was told that the following evening, Lyon lit a fire near the back door of his accommodation while his wife and two children were inside.

He then raised the alarm and evacuated his family, but did not call the fire brigade or attempt to fight the small fire, which was put out by a neighbour soon afterwards.

His wife, who had suffered a heart attack three weeks earlier, had to be taken to hospital and kept overnight after the stress of the incident caused her to feel unwell.

Two days later, Lyon called Mr Heckler to say he had been confronted by two masked men early that morning. He claimed they had a photograph of his daughters they had stolen from the house, and had threatened to harm his children if he did not co-operate.

The station owner reported the incident to police as a home invasion, prompting the local primary and high schools to take extra security precautions.

Crown prosecutor Craig Power told Judge Farnan today that Lyon had repeatedly lied about the incidents, often changing his story.

The offending was ‘‘calculated, ongoing and profound’’, and involved breaches of trust of the highest order, Mr Power said.

Since his arrest and while on bail, Lyon had claimed to have been shot by a third party - but the claim had no credence and police had not laid charges in relation it.

Lyon's sentencing followed his acceptance of a sentence indication by Judge Farnan in the Alexandra District Court in September last year.

He admitted a representative charge of burglary between September 1, 2018, and August 16, 2019. The remaining charges related to offending in 2019: burglary and arson on August 13; arson knowing that danger to life was likely to ensue on August 14, and three charges of making a false statement to police on August 13, 14 and 16.

Judge Farnan said a pre-sentence report stated that Lyon claimed to have not lit either fire, had been threatened by armed men and told to pay them $10,000 after finding and cutting down a cannabis plot, and that he had stolen the cash from the Hecklers to pay that money.

Those claims showed his continuing lack of remorse, and a lack of understanding of the trauma he had caused to his now former wife and children, the judge said.

She sentenced him to two years' jail and ordered him to pay $7050 in reparation for the stolen cash, the destroyed oven and firearms cabinet, the missing trail cameras and for repairs to the defendant’s accommodation.

Lyon is subject to post-release conditions for six months to enable counselling or other treatment as directed by the Probation Service.



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