Airbnb operator charged again with allegedly menacing guest over bad review: ‘You will burn in hell’

The owner of a luxury Airbnb property in Hepburn has been charged for a second time with using a carriage device to harass, after allegedly telling a guest she would “burn in hell” for posting that his award-winning guesthouse was “just okay’ on a travel website.

David Penman, 53, was granted a diversion in the Melbourne Magistrates Court last week, when he faced the same charge for menacing a prospective guest who left a negative review when his booking was abruptly cancelled.

Hepburn Springs accommodation operator David Penman faces a new court hearing.Credit:Simon Schluter

Now, the operator of Clifftop at Hepburn faces a fresh charge over allegations he left an expletive-laden tirade on a woman’s answering machine in May last year. A Victoria Police spokeswoman confirmed Mr Penman was due to appear before the Moorabbin Magistrates’ Court next month.

In the message, said to have been left on May 1, 2021, Mr Penman can allegedly be heard saying: “You have greatly misjudged me. 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.

“I know you think I’m joking. F— you.”

The message followed a two-word review by the woman on April 30 last year which included a two-star rating out of a possible five stars. The woman revised the review on May 1 to include specific concerns about her experience, including unfriendly customer service.

Officers from Cheltenham police station took out an interim intervention order on behalf of the woman, who was also allegedly threatened with defamation action by Mr Penman in a series of SMS messages and emails.

“Don’t be surprised when you get a defamation writ shortly. Yes, I know you think I am joking. No, I assure you I am not. Check your email and get a solicitor. Get a good one, maybe Minter Ellison. Actions have consequences,” Mr Penman allegedly said in an SMS message on May 1 last year.

Mr Penman emailed the woman again on May 1, but also included his lawyer, Zac Griffiths from Geelong-based law firm Harwood Andrews, in the correspondence.

“Zac, please contact me first thing Monday to issue a concerns notice and file a defamation claim … Yeah I did warn them about the recent cases we won. They want to roll the dice anyway. Keep good track of costs for when they realise the crap they are in and finally want to settle. Looks like we have another slow learner on our hands,” Mr Penman said in an email.

Clifftop at Hepburn is the property owned by David Penman at the centre of the court fracas.

In another email, he instructed Mr Griffiths to “throw the whole goddam book at them. Spare no expense. Sue them penniless.”

Mr Griffiths sent a concerns letter on May 13 last year, warning that Mr Penman would proceed with defamation action unless the woman removed her online review, admitted fault, and paid all legal costs.

However, a writ was never filed, and the woman’s review of her experience at Clifftop at Hepburn remains online.

Mr Penman’s luxury guest house, which costs up to $699 per night, has won a swag of travel, hospitality and architectural accolades, including the nation’s best holiday home in 2020, according to the business’ Airbnb page.

Many of the awards were determined by positive online reviews, which also help to generate bookings. But at least one quest who posted an unflattering review of Clifftop at Hepburn was quick to feel the wrath of Mr Penman.

Last week, the Melbourne Magistrates Court was told the 53-year-old sent a barrage of threatening messages to Matthew Taylor in June last year.

Mr Taylor, who sells software to the construction industry, had claimed in a review on TripAdvisor in June last year that his booking was abruptly cancelled following a minor dispute over the price of a second room.

The court heard, in one email, Mr Penman wrote: “Tomorrow 25,000 people in Melbourne are going to know … what a scumbag you are”.

The court also heard Mr Penman contacted Ms Taylor’s employer and attempted to have him fired, before threatening to release his private details on Facebook.

The Airbnb listing for Clifftop at Hepburn.

However, Magistrate Steven Raleigh approved a diversion for Mr Penman, which would see him avoid a conviction if he is of good behaviour over the next six months. Mr Raleigh said Mr Penman had no criminal history and was suffering from mental and physical health issues.

Last week’s case was not the first time Mr Penman has made headlines in connection with a negative review of his prized accommodation business, which was also ranked Australia’s most romantic getaway and one of world’s top 60 places to elope, according to its Airbnb page.

In October last year, Mr Penman launched defamation action against another disgruntled potential guest who he said posted a critical online tirade when her stay was cancelled because of Victoria’s lockdown restrictions.

Kaleen Dalliston slammed the business in a TripAdvisor review and a series of social media posts in August 2020, when she claimed to have not received a refund for the cancellation.

Mr Penman pursued aggravated damages, according to a statement of claim filed in the County Court of Victoria, in which he claimed his business’ reputation has been seriously injured and held up to ridicule.

The statement of claim alleged Ms Dalliston’s comments were understood to mean Mr Penman was “a disgusting human being”, while his guesthouses were “not worthy of custom and overpriced”.

The legal dispute was resolved confidentially and the case was discontinued.

Mr Penman has been approached for comment.

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