Woman charged with arson admits setting rental on fire

A frustrated tenant intentionally set fire to her rented house, leaving behind a dog that had to be rescued by neighbours.

Jodie Johnstone claimed her property manager didn’t support her electrical grievances but police found her internet search history showed she had researched how to set the fire without getting caught, a court heard.

The 33-year-old pleaded guilty to one charge of arson before Judge David Ruth in the Christchurch District Court today.

Johnstone’s search history showed “how to make a house fire look like an electrical fault” and an article entitled “seven common causes of house fires and how to prevent them” a month before she set fire to the Kāinga Ora (Housing New Zealand) property in Woolston.

According to a police summary of facts, Johnstone told a friend of her intention to burn the house down.

On January 7 at 6pm, Johnstone sent her kids to a nearby park to play, inviting neighbours to go with them.

Before Johnstone left, she lit a full rubbish bag on fire with a butane lighter and left it in the laundry before leaving the property.

The fire spread within the laundry before moving throughout the house, causing extensive damage, the summary of facts said.

Nearby neighbours rushed to the property to check if anyone was inside and managed to rescue the woman’s pet dog which had been left in the backyard.

Johnstone returned to the property and claimed she didn’t know what caused the fire and that it might have been an electrical fault.

The fire was extinguished by firefighters and an examination of the scene by police and fire investigators revealed it was intentionally lit, potentially with the use of an accelerant.

Johnstone, who later admitted to lighting the fire, said she “wasn’t thinking” and was acting out of frustration with her property manager.

She said she had repeatedly raised concerns about the size, heating and electrical function of the property leading up to the fire.

She believed her property manager did not sufficiently support her or action any of her requests or complaints.

As a result, Johnstone had been actively looking for alternative housing arrangements, including emergency housing.

She was remanded on bail and will be sentenced on November 22. Judge Ruth also ordered a pre-sentence report.

An order is sought for reparation with the cost yet to be determined.

 – Emily Moorhouse

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