Man charged in New Zealand hostel fire remanded in custody

1684493104 Man charged in New Zealand hostel fire remanded in custody
Fire investigators busy investigation a one of the hostels burned floors on May 16, 2023.— AFP
Fire investigators investigating the burnt floors of a hostel in Wellington — AFP

A 48-year-old man has been remanded in custody on charges of arson for allegedly starting two fatal fires at a boarding house in Wellington. The Wellington district court has suppressed the identity of the man until his next hearing on June 19.

The accused set a couch on fire at Loafers Lodge in Newtown, Wellington on Monday evening, and another fatal fire broke out two hours later. He appeared in court on Monday and was remanded in custody as his lawyer did not apply for bail. The combined maximum sentence for the charges is 21 years in jail.

Police Inspector Dion Bennett said on Thursday that officers found five bodies at the 92-room hostel, adding that further, more serious charges might follow. The accused was seen making agitated hand gestures in court and shouting, “I need bail, I need a good lawyer. Someone else done it,” during the hearing.

People staying at Loafers Lodge consisted of nurses and workers from a nearby hospital, clients of Wellington’s social agencies, and several individuals under the supervision of the Department of Corrections. The fire claimed at least six lives.

Following the deadly fire, lawmakers have pledged to scrutinize the regulations observed by such buildings.

Police stand guard at the site of a fire at the Loafers Lodge hostel building in Wellington on May 16, 2023. — AFP
Police guard the Loafers Lodge hostel building in Wellington after the fire — AFP

The bodies of the victims have been removed from Loafers Lodge in Newtown, though none have been formally identified yet. Inspector Bennett confirmed that the victim identification process is underway and that the investigators were unable to access the third floor of the building due to safety reasons.