Sandra is a senior crimes and justice reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Accused in Maungatapu house arson case acquitted

Firefighters found two fires in a house in Te Hono St, Maungatapu in December 2015. Photo/File
Firefighters found two fires in a house in Te Hono St, Maungatapu in December 2015. Photo/File

A Tauranga jury has acquitted a Maungatapu woman accused of trying to burn down her home.

Lorraine Mary Lawson, 52, whose jury trial began in Tauranga District Court on Wednesday was last night found not guilty of one count of arson.

At the start of the trial, Crown prosecutor Nathan Batts told the jury that Lawson was accused of starting two fires inside her Te Hono St property on December 18, 2015.

When firefighters arrived they found the bed in the master bedroom upstairs well alight. There was another fire in the corner of the dining room downstairs, he said.

A Tauranga fire investigator gave evidence today that a mixture of items set alight had caused the dining room fire and alleged both fires had been deliberately lit.

Lawson, who had lived at the property for four to five years, had fallen on hard times and by mid-2015 the power had been disconnected, Mr Batts earlier said. She struggled to do all the usual household duties and began relying on her neighbours to get by including filling her thermos with hot water.

During the week of the fire her concerned brother made several unsuccessful attempts to contact her, including the evening before the blaze, the court heard.

Two days after the fire, police found Lawson sitting in her car in Welcome Bay. In the car were household items and some valuables, he told the jury.

Mr Batts argued that although it may be illogical for someone to try to burn down their own home, there was enough circumstantial evidence which proved she had done so.

Lawson's lawyer Nicholas Dutch told the jury his client chose not to give evidence nor call any witnesses but that was her right, and the onus was on the Crown to prove the charge.

Mr Dutch urged the jury to acquit his client because the Crown had failed to present any direct or even circumstantial evidence to prove Lawson was responsible for the fires nor had they presented a motive or any evidence that Lawson had personally benefited from it, he said.

The jury deliberated for about four hours and delivered its verdict at 5pm tonight.

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