December 16, 2019

‘Busybody’ insult ends in $120k payout

A Sydney woman is $120,000 poorer after losing a defamation case brought by one of her neighbours over an email she sent to other residents of their apartment building accusing him of being “cowardly”.

Patricia Murray was ordered by the NSW District Court earlier this week to pay her former neighbour Gary Raynor $90,000 in damages and a further $30,000 in aggravated damages.

Judge Judith Gibson found that Ms Murray’s email falsely implied Mr Gaynor had unreasonably harassed and acted menacingly toward her by sending threatening emails saying he was a small minded busybody who wasted fellow residents’ time on petty items concerning the running of their building.

The entire bitter dispute occurred between the two neighbours when they were living in the Watermark apartment building in Manly on Sydney’s northern beaches.

Mr Raynor’s defamation case centred on an email Ms Murray sent on May 25, 2017, almost a year after Ms Murray and her partner had moved in.

As soon as Ms Murray started leasing the apartment in July 2016, Mr Raynor began to realise she rarely, if ever, locked her mailbox.

In August of that year, Mr Raynor emailed her letting her know he’d noticed the mailbox was unlocked.

Eight months later, Mr Raynor again emailed her about locking her mailbox after police reported people were stealing mail in Manly.

Ten day days later, the Watermark’s mailboxes were broken into.

Mr Raynor, the chair of the Watermark’s strata committee, then sent another email to the building and attached an article from The Manly Daily explaining a link between petty mail fraud and international crime syndicates.

According to court documents, Ms Murray replied to the email on April 27 in “derisive terms”, asking Mr Raynor, “Wow! What’s your take on this?”

Thieves broke into the building’s mailboxes again on May 2, 2017. According to other residents living in the Watermark at the time, Ms Murray’s mailbox was locked at the time of the second break-in.

But the next day, Mr Raynor found her leaving her mailbox open again.

He emailed her on May 5, but she did not reply.

On May 24, 2017, Mr Raynor emailed again — and CCed in the real estate agency handling Ms Murray’s tenancy in the Watermark.

In that email, he said he believed Ms Murray’s unlocked mailbox could’ve contributed to the two break-ins and told her she could be forced to pay if the locks on the mailboxes needed to be changed.

Ms Murray sent the email Mr Raynor sued over the next day, complaining of being harassed by “many emails” from Mr Raynor.

The judgment shows she lashed the “Mission Impossible”situation suggested by Mr Raynor, that her unlocked mailbox could’ve contributed to the two break-ins and complained he had “never asked why we keep the letterbox open”.

“Gary, we are happy friendly people here in unit 9. My partner has 35 years of police and forensic expertise, but rather than a simple knock on my door for a chat in person, or speak to me face-to-face when we have exchanged pleasantries in the foyer, or while I’m putting the buildings bins out on the street, you have consistently chosen the public email option; copy in all residents and/or my real agent, sundry alleging that responsibility for the threat and safety to our home at Watermark is our doing and threatening to hold us financially responsible,” Ms Murray replied.

Signing off her email with “Please Stop!”, Ms Murray labelled the constant emails as “offensive and harassing”.

“To avoid further harassment, I’ve not replied to your provoking mailbox emails. However your consistent attempt to shame me publicly is cowardly,” she wrote.

“It is also offensive, harassing and menacing through the use of technology to threaten me. Please stop!”

In previous emails, Ms Murray argued Mr Raynor was “a small minded busybody who wastes the time of fellow residents on petty items concerning the running of the Watermark building”.

Ms Murray also argued Mr Raynor “was a malicious person who sent threatening emails to the defendant and copied in other residents of the Watermark building for the express purpose of publicly humiliating”.

The court found Ms Murray’s barrister had tried to pour cold water on the “busybody” comment, instead suggesting his intense interest in the mailboxes was “misguided”.

Despite the barrister’s argument, the court found Ms Murray had failed to establish a defence of justification or any of the other defences she raised.

In conclusion, Judge Judith Gibson said “it would be fair to say that every sentence of the defendant’s email in reply struck a blow at the plaintiff, and was intended to ridicule and humiliate him in every way”.

Speaking to Nine News, Ms Murray’s lawyer Hugo Aston said she was “very disappointed” with the decision.

“She certainly learned a big lesson from all this. It shows that from something seemingly trivial, big consequences can flow,” Mr Aston said.

Barrie Goldsmith, Mr Raynor’s lawyer, said his client was “badly hurt” by the email.

“He wanted his reputation vindicated. He felt very, very badly hurt and defamed by what Ms Murray had written,” Mr Goldsmith said.

Ms Murray plans to appeal the decision.

Hugo Aston

Barrister | Arbitrator | Mediator
Supreme Court of TAS + NSW
High Court of Australia
Family Court Arbitrator
Public Notary
Clarence Chambers
Level 21
133 Castlereagh Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel: (02) 8379 1874
Mob: 0448 807 075
Level 1
41 York Street
Launceston TAS 7250
Tel: (03) 6334 8634
Mob: 0448 807 075

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