An elderly man who headed the strata committee of a Manly apartment building has been awarded $120,000 in damages after a court found he was defamed by an email from a fellow tenant that implied he was a “small-minded busybody” wasting residents’ time on petty matters.
Gary Raynor, 78, sued his fellow tenant, Patricia Murray, over a May 2017 email she sent to Mr Raynor and their neighbours in which she asked him to stop emailing her about locking her mailbox.
“To avoid further harassment, I’ve not replied to your provoking mailbox emails,” Ms Murray said.
“However, your consistent attempt to shame me publicly is cowardly. It is also offensive, harassing and menacing through the use of technology to threaten me. Please stop!”
The NSW District Court heard Mr Raynor had sent Ms Murray a number of emails noting that her mailbox in the building had been left open and requesting that she keep it locked.
This included an email on May 24, 2017, in which he said: “As your mailbox has again been open for the last few days it is obvious I have not been able to convince you of the seriousness of this issue.”
The court heard there had been reports of gangs stealing mail in the area. Mailboxes in the building were broken into twice, starting in April 2017.
Mr Raynor believed the culprits may have been able to cut a “master key” by examining the lock on Ms Murray’s unlocked mailbox.
In her email on May 25, Ms Murray said: “Your assertion/s that a single unlocked mailbox has allowed a criminal milieu to stalk the … [apartment complex], and spend the time necessary to copy barrels/locks in order to then construct a master key is farfetched [sic].”
She described Mr Raynor as having a “fixation on this issue” and suggested that, in light of his “email hobby”, he might consider getting sensitive documents such as banking statements sent via email rather than in the post.
Lawyers for Mr Raynor said the email defamed him by implying he was a “small-minded busybody who wastes the time of fellow residents on petty items” concerning the building, and that he “unreasonably harassed” and “acted menacingly towards” Ms Murray by “consistently threatening her by email”.
They also alleged Ms Murray’s email suggested Mr Raynor was a “malicious person who sent threatening emails to the defendant and copied in other residents” to publicly humiliate her.
District Court Judge Judith Gibson found those meanings were conveyed and Ms Murray had failed to establish a defence to any of them. This included defences of truth and honest opinion.
“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,” she said.
She found Ms Murray’s evidence was “coloured by exaggerated language, groundless suspicions and hostility”.
Judge Gibson found there was no evidence Mr Raynor had sent emails directed specifically to Ms Murray to other residents, although one was sent to her real estate agent. Two emails about mailbox break-ins were sent to all residents.
Judge Gibson noted Mr Raynor “had difficulty entering the witness box” during the hearing in February, “as he had to use two walking sticks”.
Judge Gibson awarded Mr Raynor $120,000, including aggravated damages, plus legal costs.