Shane Lyon was sentenced to two years in jail by the Queenstown District Court on Monday.
A farm manager tried to set fire to his employer’s Central Otago homestead before lighting a fire at the cottage where his own children and partner lived.
Shane Lyon, 39, of Temuka, appeared via audio-visual link in the Queenstown District Court on Monday for sentencing on arson and burglary charges, and for making false statements to police.
Judge Bernadette Farnham said the offending happened while Lyon was working as a stock manager and shepherd on a 6000-hectare farm near Alexandra.
Lyon lived in workers’ accommodation with his wife and two children, while another family lived in a cottage 150 metres away and the property owners lived in a large homestead.
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“You had free rein on the property as an employee, especially when the owners were away,” Judge Farnham said.
Small amounts of cash stored in envelopes went missing from the homestead’s kitchen shortly after Lyon started working on the farm in September 2018, and $650 was taken from a children’s sport fundraiser in March 2019. About $1600 was estimated to have been stolen in total.
The larger thefts were reported to police and cameras were covertly installed around the property, but were later stolen or disabled.
On August 13, 2019, when the owners left the property for 48 hours, Lyon stole $180 cash from their kitchen and tried to start a fire by placing a tea towel in the oven and turning it on. He then broke into a gun cabinet to make it look like the firearms had been dropped by fleeing burglars.
He then had a change of heart about burning the house down, and turned the oven off.
Lyon called police claiming he had disturbed some burglars.
The judge noted members of the rural community rallied around Lyon after the supposed burglary, and helped looked for the offenders.
On August 14, Lyon alerted his family to a fire at their back door. The family fled the house, but Lyon did not call the fire brigade or try to put out the fire.
The fire was relatively small, and charred the outside of the house. A neighbour put the fire out using an extinguisher.
A fire investigator found an accelerant had been used to start the fire.
Lyon reported the incident to police and his wife was admitted to hospital overnight from stress as she was recovering from a heart attack three weeks earlier.
Their children were also extremely distressed by the arson at their home, the judge said.
Two days later, Lyon told the farm owner he had been confronted by masked men near his house.
He claimed the men had a photograph of his daughters, which they had stolen from his home and threatened to harm his children if he did not co-operate. The farm owner reported the “home invasion” to police.
The children’s schools were informed of the threats and took extra security precautions.
Lyon later admitted he tried to burn down the homestead to cover up the cash thefts, but denied setting the fire at his own back door.
The judge said Lyon’s now ex-partner had physically recovered, but both she and the children were “traumatised” by his offending.
Crown prosecutor Chris Power said there had been significant breaches of trust and the offending was pre-meditated and calculated.
The judge sentenced Lyon to 24 months’ jail and ordered him to pay reparation of $7050.