David Penman, the owner of the Clifftop luxury accommodation in Hepburn Springs, has been fined $2500 without conviction for sending a series of threatening emails to a woman who left a negative review about Clifftop last year.
Clifftop reports they have won a series of awards according to its Airbnb page. Awards are often based on positive reviews. Reviews therefore have an impact on future bookings and income, which can be up to $799 per night for Clifftop accommodation.
Malicious or negative reviews with an ulterior purpose can lead to successful defamation actions. However, honestly held, accurate and truthful opinions are a defence against defamation when the review is critical or negative.
A guest left a negative review of her experience with Clifftop in May last year. Penman responded by leaving her a message that said, “You obviously didn’t do your research about the defamation case on Google… don’t bother removing your review, don’t bother offering to settle. I’ll see you in f****ing court, you better have a lot of money. This is not over, we’re not accepting a payout. We’re going to f****ing court and you will burn in hell.”
In court, Penman’s barrister claimed that Penman’s behaviour was out of character and resulted from stress due to the Pandemic. The Magistrate said Penman’s actions were ‘shocking, unfair and unnecessary’. But she accepted that Penman was sorry for his behaviour.
However, according to media reports, Penman has a history of threatening guests who leave negative reviews, including contacting their employers to complain about the reviews.
Penman is one of the principals for the controversial Sky barrels development proposed for Cornish Hill which is before the Victorian Administrative Appeals Tribunal. He is also a principal in the Charlies Road Glamping application that has recently been refused by the Hepburn Council. Significant numbers of community members have objected to these proposals at considerable personal cost.
Late last year Penman threatened the Wombat Post with a defamation action if it didn’t withdraw a story on the sky barrels application to Council. We stood by our story and published following a series of emails with Penman.