‘There is overwhelming evidence that there were intruders involved in this fire!’ – Tony Cafe, tcforensic.com.au
Killara was a large (495 Sq m approximately) residential dwelling house situated on an isolated rural/lifestyle block approximately 9.5Km from Kerikeri.
Almost the whole property was raised to the ground by the fire which was first seen at 11:48 pm, by the time the fire service arrived, about 15 minutes later, there was little to save.
IAG, initially appointed Mr Maurice Fletcher to investigate the fire. They then called in Mr Russell Joseph of Corporate Risks Limited, Wellington and his associate Mr Martin Jorgensen completed the computer analysis. All three reported back to IAG’s lawyer, Mr Chris Hlavac of Young Hunter Lawyers.
Mr Joseph started his investigation on 14 September working at the fire scene for three days. He revisited the site to continue investigating on 8 November and again on 12-13 December with Mr Fletcher in attendance.
ORIGIN of the Fire
The investigators failed to identify the Point of Origin of the fire, no heat source was found and the first fuel ignited was not identified.
Investigator Joseph claimed that the library was the Area of origin due to floor level burn patterns. (P28 of Fire Investigation Reports, dated 4 October 2011)
However independent Fire investigator, Tony Café in his report titled Comments on the Cause of a Fire, 8 October 2012, states ‘Mr Joseph believes the fire originated from the library because of some burn pattern he found at floor level however floor level burn patterns are not produced by the initial spread of the fire because fires burn upwards and away from a floor.
Mr Joseph excavated the library very extensively and found nothing to confirm it contained the Point of Origin. He did later, claim to have found the remains of a PC Printer in the library but his images show this was actually located on top of a large amount of debris.
Had the printer been in the library prior to the fire, as part of the ignition device suggested by Mr Jorgensen then it should have been located in the debris close to, or on, the floor. The amount of debris seen below it suggests it was very high up in the building prior to the fire or as is more likely, had been moved to this location during the investigation.
NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations, (Chapter 17 Para 1) states:-
‘The origin of a fire is one of the most important hypotheses that an investigator develops and tests during the investigation. Generally, if the origin cannot be determined, the cause cannot be determined, and generally, if the correct origin is not identified, the subsequent cause determination will also be incorrect. The purpose of determining the origin of the fire is to identify in three dimensions the location at which the fire began.’
There was a great deal of evidence to show that intruders broke into the property, on the 9 September 2011.
D S Sam Bindon took these images on 10 September showing that a ‘Forced Entry’ had occurred at the property.
A large rock is seen inside the room that seems to be the right size to have smashed the window, note it was laminated glass which took several blows to smash. The hole was right next to the door handle, the lock was found in the unlocked position with the thumb turn in the vertical, unlocked’ orientation.
The Fire Service recorded, above (the annotations were on the original disclosed report) that several rocks were found in the bedroom and that the floor below them indicated they were in place prior to the fire as would be expected had they been used to break the window for forced entry.
D S Sam Bindon also found Beer bottles, containing liquid, later identified to be petrol in the barn and two fresh cigarette butts were found on the ground outside the barn.
Forensic testing by ESR showed the liquid in the bottles was petrol and that the debris samples did not indicate accelerant presence. DNA analysis of the cigarette butts (appendix 1) provided evidence that two unknown persons where at the site. Cigarette butts decay quite rapidly in the climatic conditions in spring in the sub-tropical Far North of New Zealand. None of our family ever drank beer or smoked.
The evidence of the beer bottles and cigarette butts was never disclosed in any report by the IAG investigators, Joseph, Fletcher or Jorgensen.
Mr Fletcher interviewed David O’Meara as part of his investigation Report dated on 28 November 2011. Mr O’Meara was unknown to the us but their house was on the other side of the hedge dividing the drives to their respective properties. The hedge, once away from the lower gate area, had several sparse areas allowing clear vision of both driveways.
This report raises several issues, the Fire Service reported the gate was closed, chained and padlocked. I can confirm that we had been doing this whenever the house was left empty and at night when the family went to bed after being recommended to do so by the Police Officer that attended following the break in on 30 August. To avoid any difficulty with family entry, a key had been hidden on a nail behind the gatepost. It was not there after the fire.
It looks possible that the intruders were openly removing items from the property by car throughout the day. Re-locking it before setting the property alight to give them more time to exit on motorcycles across the land to the rear of the windbreaks. There was an open entrance to this land behind the barn.
In his Pre Trial testimony, when asked if the Rocks broke the glass he stated, ‘
’So the fact that the glass is broken inwards, to me would suggest, that, it is more likely it was broken by a rock.’
Large sections of the glass are seen well onto the balcony due to the impact, this is in line with what Newton’s Law of Conservation of Momentum would predict.
The rocks lost momentum hitting the glass and the lost momentum transferred to the glass, firing sections of it further onto the balcony. Any fire induced damage would have ejected the glass off the balcony.
The site had been manned at all times since the Fire Service arrived close to midnight on the 9/10 September until several hours after this image was taken at 11:05 am on 10 September 2011.
There can be no question here, the rocks and the broken glass were on the balcony immediately after the fire.
Mr Joseph never argued that the rocks broke the glass after the fire, probably since doing so would have required evidence from FSO Craig Bain who had told us that the fire had been caused by Vandals, that the fire service had short of water, showing that none was wasted on the balcony and that the fire scene had been attended throughout the night. These statements would have been easily accepted by the Judge and would have devastated Mr Joseph’s position.
Mr Joseph took an extensive series of images of the rocks on the balcony. Note that all these images clearly show that the rocks are on top of the glass and the glass is all on top of the fire debris. It is stratified, the debris layers arrived first, then the glass smashed by the rocks, all on top of the debris.
This first images taken by Mr Joseph show the three rocks on the balcony, the ringed one on the left is the dark object viewed under the surviving lower rail of the balustrade on the balcony image taken by D S Bindon on 10 September.
Mr Joseph returned the next day to this area and took 6 more images of the rocks and glass on the balcony in detail. He obviously had grasped the significance of this evidence.
The right-hand rock, shown above, is quite small and is located on the location where the debris is at its deepest. It is clear the rock is not sitting on the floor of the balcony surrounded by debris, including dry fibreglass insulation, it is very clearly on top of the debris not ‘among’ it. Note the cubic bits of the toughened, 5mm thick, balcony glass, all on top of the debris this far onto the balcony.
Note here that these images clearly show a piece of the fire debris, probably a curved alloy window ‘Z’ section, that bends underneath the rock, there can be no question, the rocks and the cubic bits of toughened 5mm thick glass are on top of the debris. There is no debris to be seen anywhere on the balcony that is on top of any of the glass or the rocks.
These images show that the intruders were at the fire scene in the early stages of the fire, the rocks that broke the glass with all of the glass ended on top of the debris. The balcony glass smashed by the rocks has ended up all over the balcony with large sections of it visible here over 1m in from the original balustrades due to the impact of the rocks. This clearly occurred after the fire debris was ejected from the windows, after the ceiling failed and fell on top of the debris and before the Fire Service arrived.
Mr Joseph in his Fire Report dated 4 October 2011, paras 7.12 and 7.20 agrees the building was penetrated and attacked. The comments on it being a ‘staged fire’ are dealt with later in this report.
The evidence of the existence of intruders is irrefutable, they forced entry into the property at some time on the 9 September 2011. With 90% of the property entirely destroyed and the rest seriously damaged it is impossible to know what items they removed prior to starting the fire shortly before midnight.
Mr Joseph’s comment above, that no property was taken, is based on him finding the remains of two old PC’s and a 40’ flat TV in the debris. The house contained large volumes of expensive artwork, first edition books, silver and fine china, all far easier to remove and sell than old PC’s and a TV set that was bolted to the wall. No remains of any of these items were found in the debris.
He did not mention in his reports that he found several empty jewellery boxes but he had photographed them on the remains of the bed in the master bedroom. It is unclear if he moved them there to photograph or if they were found in that location. The missing jewellery items have never been found.
Mr Joseph did mention finding ‘4 photographs of the insureds family’ in para 5.6.15 expanded to ‘in the base of a cabinet’ in para 7.6 of his report.
These photographs, prior to the fire, stood in the top of the cabinet mounted in Victorian Sterling Silver frames, if you view the image above carefully you can see the evidence of them being framed along the edges of the photos. The frames were not found in the debris or since.
Clearly, some valuable items, jewellery and silver had been removed from the property.
This was a massive total burn fire that consumed the house in a very short time, the neighbours reported hearing a series of load bangs like a large fireworks display, flashover? They investigated and saw Killara on fire at around 11:48 when they took the image below.
They called the Fire Service and took a series of images at that time, only one was ever disclosed after repeated requests. This image was taken from a point between trees, both ends of the property, which is assumed was also fully alight has been blocked from sight by the trees.
By the time the Fire Service arrived 18 minutes later the whole house was virtually consumed and all they could do was contain the situation.
The idea that a fire of this magnitude could have been staged, over 15 hours prior to the fire, is unsupportable. There is no actual evidence to support this idea.
Nobody could have predicted which parts of the property would be destroyed by the fire and which parts would remain in which to leave the ‘staged’ evidence. Wind direction, rain or just the way flash overs occurred would have left many possible outcomes. It is generally accepted that large fires are highly unpredictable so how could the evidence found in the scene be staged in advance?
Mr Joseph did not check with the family as to why certain items of furniture or cupboards were empty and did not consider that the property had been set up as a 5 star luxury lodge with guest accommodation letting at up to $595 per night. Naturally that required empty storage cupboards and drawers in some of the rooms. The family often used the suites during out of season periods but limited the use of the storage to a minimum.
The property was very large, around 500 square metres with massive amounts of storage, walk in wardrobes and the like. The family did not keep old clothes just to fill the storage and many cupboards were empty or nearly so, there was nothing suspicious in this it was just a reflection of the determination of Mr Joseph to implicate me.
It has never been disputed that at the time of the fire we were in Hamilton about 400Km away. Maurice Fletcher and the NZ Police investigated the possibility that they had funded accomplices to cause the fire but found no evidence to support that suggestion.
The lengths IAG’s investigators wen to in their attempts to DISCREDIT the evidence of the investigators is quite incredible.