Names of judges allege Nelson incendiary accused of lighting February fires, despite fears of vigilantism


A man accused of lighting two fires in Nelson during the devastating fires earlier this year can now be identified.

Benjamin Philip Durrant faces two counts of arson.

Initially he was refused by the suppression of names in the District Court of Nelson, but appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

Today, the Supreme Court publicly issued its decision and allowed Durrant's name to be published.

Details of the allegations against Durrant, however, remain suppressed.

This trial was adjourned until two in the afternoon to give Durrant's mother the opportunity to inform the father of the impending publication of the charges against her son.

Several serious fires erupted in the Nelson Bays area in February and resulted in mass evacuations of residents, cattle and businesses.

When Durrant first appeared in court on March 7 alongside his co-defendant, who has the suppression of the name for potential mental health reasons, his lawyer argued that there was a risk to the safety of both defendants.

Screenshots of a Facebook page were produced in support of the argument.

But when the district court judge rejected Durrant's application, he said that while the social media posts reflected "a reaction from the Nelson-Tasman community," it was an expression of "heightened emotions" due to the impact of the fires .

"[The Facebook posts were] no more than the type of spleen ventilation that can be expected from those living in this area when it comes to realizing that someone who has actually deliberately set ablaze fires in this area is brought to justice, "he said.

Judge Karen Clark agreed with her fellow judge.

"I do not see any error in the approach of the judge. I am not convinced that there is a real risk of vigilantism or retribution against the defendants or even their families," she said in her decision.

"Facebook comments, the more extreme comments that include comments like" make parents fired, "and" they need a foot on the floor, "are more like venting frustration than representing a genuine threat to personal safety. "

Judge Clark said that the importance of open justice and transparency and genuine public interest "in knowing the identity of the person, or persons, in charge of lighting the fires" outweighed Durrant's argument.

"It is also possible that the vacuum created by the existence of suppression orders is filled with rumors and speculation. This speculation is not in the interest of justice," she said.

Durrant did not file an appeal on his first appearance and is expected to return to court later this year.


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