Woman accused of arson admits she set fire to rented house

A frustrated tenant deliberately set fire to her rented house, leaving a dog to be rescued by neighbors.

Jodie Johnstone claimed her property manager did not support her electrical grievances, but police found that her internet search history showed she had investigated how to start the fire without getting caught, a court heard.

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

Johnstone’s search history showed “what a house fire looks like as an electrical failure” and an article titled “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 the facts, Johnstone told a friend of her intention to burn down the house.

At 6 p.m. on January 7, Johnstone sent her children to a nearby park to play, inviting neighbors to join them.

Before leaving, Johnstone set fire to a full garbage bag with a butane lighter and left it in the wash before leaving the property.

The fire spread in the wax before moving throughout the house and causing extensive damage, the summary of the facts said.

Nearby neighbors rushed to the property to check if anyone was inside and managed to rescue the woman’s dog that had been abandoned in the backyard.

Johnstone returned to the property claiming she did not know what caused the fire and that it may have been an electrical fault.

The fire was extinguished by firefighters and an investigation of the site by police and firefighters showed it had been deliberately lit, possibly with the use of an accelerator.

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

She said she had repeatedly expressed concerns about the property’s size, heating and electrical function in the run-up to the fire.

She felt that her property manager did not support her sufficiently or act on her requests or complaints.

As a result, Johnstone was actively seeking alternative housing, including emergency housing.

She was released on bail and will be sentenced on November 22. Judge Ruth also ordered a warrant for the conviction.

A reinstatement order is being sought with costs to be determined.

Emily Moorhouse


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