Man convicted of making threats on Facebook page

A Wanaka man has been convicted of making obscene and threatening public comments on a social media post advertising rooms for rent.

In the first case of its kind in the Queenstown District Court, Andrew Mark Lawrence (44) was sentenced to 12 months' supervision yesterday for threatening to burn down the house in comments on a Facebook trading page.

The complainant, Kirsty Bryan, said she wrote the post on April 21 last year, to help her father, who was building the house in Lake Hayes Estate.

Following his instructions, she listed the master bedroom for $400 a week, and the other three rooms for $300 a week.

Soon after, she saw the defendant's first comment, which criticised the prices and said "burn this ***'s ***ing house down''.

After she replied in similar fashion, he made more comments using obscene language.

Ms Bryan's original post was eventually removed from the page by its administrator, but the following morning Lawrence sent a private message to her saying: "Oh I'm sorry, I want to rent all four rooms with thinners and matches.''

After Ms Bryan made a complaint at the Lumsden police station, Lawrence was charged with causing harm by posting digital communications.

Giving evidence, she said the experience made her fearful, and she locked herself and her children inside their home when her husband was away.

"I was scared for my safety and my kids' safety.

"I've never been spoken to like that by someone I don't know.

"I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat. I was really depressed.''

Lawrence's counsel, Paige Noorland, said Ms Bryan added "fuel to the fire'' by engaging with the defendant, sharing his comments, and criticising other people's comments.

She had misunderstood the sarcasm and humour in the defendant's comments.

Asked why she did not immediately delete her post, Ms Bryan replied she was "overwhelmed'' and it did not occur to her.

Ms Noorland said the defendant had been expressing his freedom of speech, and his comments were focused on the "monetary issues'' raised by the advertisement.

The complainant was a "fully-grown woman able to stand on her own two feet''.

"She insulted Mr Lawrence back, and then proceeded to share it.''

Prosecuting Sergeant Ian Collin said the defendant's messages went beyond opinion, and made specific threats to burn the house down.

Judge John Brandts-Giesen said the defendant's messages were "extremely upsetting'' for the complainant.

Besides the obscene language, the repeated comments about burning down the house were frightening.

Committing arson on a house carried a heavy penalty.

"The victim had every reason to fear that a visit [from the defendant], even from Wanaka, was possible.''

"It's one thing to express a view in a reasonable way, as other people have done with this advertisement.

"However, when it's personalised and there are threats to burn a house down, that freedom of speech has to be curtailed.''

As well as the supervision sentence, which will address Lawrence's use of social media and other issues, he was fined $500 and ordered to pay the complainant $400 for emotional harm.