Before the Facebook post, former deputy principal Kenneth Rothe, 74, enjoyed his life running two small seaside motels with his wife and caring for his grandchildren.
Afterwards, Mr Rothe was the subject of a brutal bashing that left him hospitalised for six months and his family were so scared they moved interstate.
Now a NSW District Court judge has forced the man who wrote the defamatory Facebook post to pay $150,000 in damages.
In March 2014 electrician David Scott wrote the following post, asking people to spread the word.
“Pedophile [sic] warning:- Nambucca has been used as a relocation for these monsters – blue dolphin –nirvana hotel and above the Indian restaurant! …Bus stops are right out front of theses hotels for our children?”
Mr Rothe was the owner of the Blue Dolphin Motel and Nirvana Village Motel and a rental apartment in Nambucca Heads on the state’s mid north coast.
He sometimes offered crisis accommodation for people fleeing family disputes but emphatically denied he ever housed ex-prisoners or paedophiles under any agreement.
A “devastated” and “distressed” Mr Rothe begged Mr Scott for a retraction and an apology but neither was given to him.
Instead his life was seriously threatened – twice.
There is no suggestion Mr Scott has anything to do with the assaults.
Mr Rothe told the court that just before the first assault someone said to him, “Are you the Blue Dolphin paedophile?”
People started making anonymous phone calls to the motel, some asking for sex, and the Nambucca Valley Crime Information Facebook page republished the allegations.
Judge Judith Gibson found that Mr Rothe was an upright member of the north coast community who ran his businesses in accordance with the law.
“This Facebook attack was made on him out of the blue, with no prior inquiry of any kind by any person,” Judge Gibson said.
“It has had a devastating effect on him,” she said.
“It would be fair to say that the publication of the matter complained of has destroyed the plaintiff’s wellbeing as well as his peace of mind.”
Judge Gibson found there was no factual basis to Mr Scott’s claims, he was an “unimpressive witness” and he had made no attempt to verify the information he had heard from others prior to posting his rant.
Mr Scott argued he was a father who had every right to warn the community about potential dangers because there was a crime wave surging through Nambucca Heads which police were powerless to stop.
Judge Gibson went on to comment about the increasingly common defamatory remarks made on social media.
“The anonymity, instaneousness and wide ranging reach of the Internet and social media make it a dangerous tool in the hands of persons who see themselves as caped crusaders or whistleblowers, or alternatively want to humiliate or “troll” other members of the community for the purpose of gratifying their own wishes or fears of for the purpose of gaining attention.”
This article originally appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.