Woman torches partner's house, causes $165k in loss

By Contributor

Tania Cresswell burned down the home of her former partner. Photo / NZME

By Tara Shaskey, Open Justice multimedia journalist, Taranaki

Suspicious her partner was cheating, a woman attacked the man and then torched his newly renovated house - leaving him up to $165,000 out of pocket.

South Taranaki woman Tania Cresswell, 57, hit Tony Oxenham, her on and off partner of eight years, over the head with a piece of timber and then set a number of fires in his lounge and his bedroom.

As Oxenham worked to put out the fires, he suffered a burn to his right arm, New Plymouth District Court heard on Friday.

The January 15, 2021, blaze destroyed the Waitara, north Taranaki, home and what remained was bulldozed the following week.

While Cresswell immediately pleaded guilty to arson, she unsuccessfully defended a charge of assault with a weapon at a judge-alone trial last month.

At the trial, Oxenham told the court that Cresswell had accused him of having an affair - something he vehemently denied - before hitting him around the head a number of times with a piece of wood.

Earlier that day, she had been drinking Jack Daniels premixes at her friend's house before Oxenham picked her up and took her to his house.

She was staying with him for the week and when the pair arrived at his address she became upset by a text Oxenham received from another woman.

Cresswell admitted in evidence that the text had "tipped me off my edge" and that she can easily become aggressive and jealous.

Judge Gregory Hikaka found her guilty of the assault charge and today she returned before him in court for sentence on the assault, arson and a separate charge of drink-driving.

Crown prosecutor Laura Blencowe argued for a sentence of imprisonment and submitted that among the aggravating features, there was a clear element of cruelty.

Cresswell had laughed while telling Oxenham she was going to burn his house down, Blencowe said.

Oxenham had spent years "slavishly" renovating his home, which Cresswell was well aware of, she submitted.

His house, which sat on leasehold land, had an estimated value of between $145,000 and $165,000.

Defence lawyer Andrew Laurenson accepted a number of the aggravating features but said it was not an act of cruelty.

He said Creswell had simply lost her temper when she believed she was being lied to.

Laurenson said his client had previous good character, was extremely remorseful for her actions and should be sentenced to home detention.

A cultural report stated Cresswell was exposed to domestic violence in both her childhood and adult years, and that she struggled to trust people.

While Laurenson submitted this proved there was a link between her background and the offending, Blencowe disagreed and pointed out the report also stated that Cresswell described having an "awesome childhood".

Judge Gregory Hikaka ruled there was no connection between her background and the offending and rather Cresswell's actions were her taking "revenge".

He said a term of imprisonment was necessary.

"It's a really serious crime - the victim has lost everything that he worked very hard to gain," he said.

"Essentially all on account of your feeling of the need to express the view of what you thought was a relationship outside of the one that he had with you."

Judge Hikaka jailed Cresswell for three years and six months.

He also disqualified her from driving for one year and one day and set reparation at $150,000 but ordered that it be reviewed at a later date.

Immediately after the sentence was handed down, Laurenson indicated he had been instructed to appeal the sentence.

He made an application for bail pending the result of the appeal.

Cresswell was granted bail but only on the basis that she pay Oxenham $100 reparation every week until the appeal is heard.