Facebook, fire and fear: Arson sparked by rumours

Facebook, fire and fear: Arson sparked by rumours ATTACK:Les Burgess with one of his two uninsured cars that were the subject of an arson attack.
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ATTACK:Les Burgess with one of his two uninsured cars that were the subject of an arson attack.

BURNT: Both cars were parked next to the family home at Medowie early on Sunday. Pictures: Simone De Peak.

TweetFacebookIT was an innocent social media post that quickly festered into an ugly rumour and ended with a violent arson attack.

Port Stephens detectives have been forced to quell increased tension throughout parts of Medowie this week after false claims fueled some Facebook flames that someone else may have been involved in the road death of a popular teenager.

It includedthe pre-dawn arson attack on thefamily of a teenager who had entered the discussion about the motorcycle death of Raymond Terrace sports star Corey Pethebridge on October 26.

Corey, 17, was a rising sports star who was tragically taken when his motorcycle hit a parked car during the dark night of October 26.

Police quickly ruledout any other person being involved beforeMedowie 18-year-old Jack Burgess entered a Facebook discussion to say he thought he saw Corey that night and commented he appeared to be riding erratically.

Almost immediately, the rumours started. Suddenly, some were suggesting that Jack may have tried to push Corey off the road.

Some were even sending messages to Corey’s grieving mother, Michelle Bennett, suggesting people “Corey didn’t like” had chased him to throw rocks and eggs at him before tryingto run him off the road.

And on Sunday morning, as Jack’s family were sleeping, someone set fire to the family’s two cars.

“We don’t know who to trust or what to expect next,’’ Jack’s father, Les Burgess, said.

TRAGIC: The motorcycle death of rising teenage sports star Corey Pethebridge has sparked widespread grief.

“We have been on tenderhooks.’’

Mr Burgess said ifthey did not get a knock on the door from a passerby telling them about the flames, they could have been killed.

He said both he and his wife, Julie, would later comment that they dreamt someone was walking through dead leaves –the cars were setalight using leaves from a vacant block next door.

Police can not comment on the aspects of Corey’s death because it is the subject of a coronial investigation, but Fairfax Media understands they strongly suspect grief, combined withmisguided loyalty to their dead friend, may have sparked someone to target the Burgess family.

They have ruled out any link to Corey’s family, who although were suspicious of the rumours, now believe that no one else was to blame for, or contributed to,the teenager’s death.

FACEBOOK AND THE RULE OF COMMON SENSE

POLICE have warned that those responsible for the arson attack are not alone in committing a crime,with malicious allegations on social media also coming under investigation.

Although unable to comment directly on the death of Corey Pethebridge while it was under a coronial investigation,Port Stephens crime manager Detective Inspector Scott Parker said detectives had spoken to the teen’s family about the statements of twowitnesses to the crash.

“Peopleneed to act with respect and apply the common sense rule before making baseless and faceless allegations on social media which distress grieving family members and put the safety of others in danger,’’ Detective Inspector Parker said.

“They need to be aware that they are not just causing more pain to the families, but they may also be committing a criminal offence.’’

Detectives have worked to quell the hysteria surrounding Corey’s death after the social media allegations fueled anger.

Detective Inspector Parker would not comment onsuspects in the arson attack, although Fairfax Media understands detectives are certain the motive came from the Facebook posts.

Corey’s family have been ruled out, with police working closely with grieving mum Michelle Bennett to allay any fears someone else was involved in the crash.

“We feel deeply for their loss and are assisting in allowing them to learn everything about Corey’s death,’’ Detective Inspector Parker said.

“Even through their untold grief, they areusing common sense in trying to learn what happened to Corey.

“We are asking others to do likewise.’’

Anyone with information is urged to call Port Stephens detectives or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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