An Englishman who was accused of setting fire to his home in Northland, New Zealand, via the internet now faces deportation after his historical blackmail convictions in the UK came to light. Christopher Robinson and his wife Alison moved to New Zealand with their two children in 2005, and bought their house and 12 hectares of land in an isolated spot not far from Kerikeri, for a reported $1.6 million. By late 2011 they had extensively refurbished it for use as a luxury lodge. In April 2013, an insurance company fire investigator stood in a court in Whangarei and told a very curious tale about the house that had burnt down a year-and-a-half earlier. The investigator said he believed the house in the countryside near Kerikeri, was burnt down by its owner, even though Mr Robinson was in Hamilton with his wife at the time, almost 250 miles (400km) to the south. He said he had a theory about how Mr Robinson might have set the fire from a distance. The investigator's theory was that Mr Robinson, while in Hamilton, opened his Macbook Pro laptop, and used the internet to log-in remotely to an Acer-brand PC back at the Kerikeri home, which was connected, perhaps wirelessly, to a nearby Brother inkjet printer. Once logged in, Mr Robinson caused a print command to be sent to the printer. The investigator suggested that when the printer started pulling the sheet of paper in, it set off a Heath-Robinsonian chain of events: the paper was sellotaped to a piece of string, which was attached to a switch. When the string pulled the switch, it completed a circuit that included a 12-volt battery and a length of high-resistance wire like the ones that glow inside your toaster.
The wire was wrapped around the heads of a few matches, so when it got hot the matches ignited and set fire to additional flammable material nearby, and then the fire took hold through the entire mansion, with the assistance of some sort of accelerant such as petrol, which had been poured about the place.
To demonstrate the feasibility of this method, the investigator and a colleague had made a video of themselves starting a small fire in just this way, using the same brand of printer, and other easily sourced components, and that video was played in court.
The next morning (the fire investigator told the court) Mr Robinson got up, scrubbed the remote login software from his computer, then got on with his day. The police had been in touch to let him know his pride and joy, his beautiful house in Kerikeri, had just burnt down. He had some smoking ruins to inspect, and a hefty insurance claim to make.
Mr Robinson was acquitted after evidential flaws were found with the investigator's theory, but insrance company IAG remains convinced he set the fire, and has refused to pay out the policy.
In August 2016 Mr Robinson, who is in his late 60s, said that almost everything the fire investigator Russell Joseph said during that pre-trial evidential hearing in Whangarei in 2013 was nonsense.
He said he was in fact under-insured when his house burnt down, which would make him a pretty lame arsonist. He pointed out that after years of legal battles he was in fact acquitted of the arson charges that were laid against him, and that the Crown had never been able to show that the complicated printer-ignition method actually happened.
Contrary to the insurer's allegations, he said, he wasn't in serious financial difficulty before the fire.
He said if the fire was deliberate it was probably set by malicious intruders, and that if he'd known his house was going to burn down, why did he choose to drive to Hamilton that morning in his crappy $15,000 Nissan, leaving his "stunning" Mercedes E Class, worth more than $40,000, in the garage to be incinerated? He said he still wanted his insurance payout, but five years after the fire, he was losing hope.
Last month, however, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) told Mr Robinson that they had begun an investigation into whether he is liable for deportation. It said he had failed to mention his convictions when applying in 2004 to migrate to New Zealand, and appeared to have supplied "false information" in the family's residence application.
He said he in fact has no criminal record in the UK, but cannot publicly discuss the reason for the apparent conflict between this and the existence of the UK press reports.
To complicate matters, in 2013 Robinson was charged with blackmail because he sent a series of threatening emails to the insurer demanding cash to stop him publicising what he considered their criminal behaviour. He was found guilty of blackmail this year and is serving nine months' home detention.
During the blackmail trial, the prosecution produced newspaper reports showing Robinson had been sentenced to four years' jail in 1993 at London's Old Bailey. It was reported that Robinson had impersonated an Irish priest and sent threatening letters to 30 major British companies demanding "donations" in exchange for protection against IRA bombers.
Robinson said his police report from the UK's National Identification Service (NIS), which he supplied to INZ in 2004, clearly shows he in fact has a clean record.
In recent correspondence with INZ Robinson learnt that a copy of the NIS police record had been released to an investigator acting for IAG, following a request under the Official Information Act (OIA).
Robinson said: "After five years of being bounced around by IAG, it's just another episode of the same thing. I don't know why IAG are involved in the deportation thing. I don't understand why New Zealand Immigration is issuing details of what's happening to IAG. It all seems to be connected."
An IAG spokesperson said the insurer had no involvement in immigration action involving Robinson, though he confirmed it had made a request to INZ under the OIA for information about him.
He said: "Our focus has been on the insurance claim itself and on the various court actions that have followed from the insurance claim after the fire at Mr Robinson's property."
INZ said Robinson came to their attention in 2013 "through a police matter". It said it had received an OIA request about Robinson from IAG but most aspects of the request were declined for privacy reasons. Only information that had been noted to be already in the public domain, such as the police certificate and the results of a UK fingerprint check that appear to confirm the 1993 conviction, were released.
INZ said "no conclusion" had been reached with regard to the validity of the UK police report that Robinson had used back in 2004 to demonstrate his clean record.