Thursday, November 30, 2023

Murder trial under way following fatal house fire

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Wiremu Arapo was found dead after his Cockle Bay home caught fire in October 2020. Times file photo Wayne Martin

Two men are on trial charged with murdering a man found dead after a house fire in east Auckland almost three years ago.

Defendants Gregory David Hart and Sean Andrew Hayde deny murdering Wiremu Arapo, 27, who died following a fire at his two-storey timber home in Minerva Terrace, Cockle Bay, on October 20, 2020.

Two other people were injured and were taken to Middlemore Hospital for medical treatment.

Counties Manukau Police initially said after liaising with Fire and Emergency NZ investigators they were not treating the incident as suspicious and would refer Arapo’s death to the coroner.

However, about a month later, police announced a homicide investigation had been launched and asked people with relevant information or video footage of the fire to come forward.

On December 8, 2020, acting detective senior sergeant Craig Bolton said police had arrested and charged two 32-year-old men with Arapo’s murder.

“At this stage police are not seeking any other persons in connection with this investigation,” Bolton said at the time.

“I hope the news of arrests brings some reassurance to the Cockle Bay community.”

The pair, Hart and Hayde, pleaded not guilty to murder during an appearance in the Auckland High Court.

Their trial was scheduled to get under way before Justice Geoffrey Venning and a jury on September 11.

On the day following the fatal fire, the Times spoke to Arapo’s neighbour Mike Rowse, who was home watching TV with his wife and son when they heard the blaze break out.

Rowse said his family “heard some popping going off” and initially thought it was fireworks.

“Then we heard our landlord upstairs yelling and my wife said, ‘Did he just say the house is on fire?’

“We opened up the front door and looked across and could see flames and the smoke drifting out across [the property].”

Rowse phoned 111 while his wife and son ran up their driveway to see what was happening next door. He then heard fire trucks arriving at the scene.

“I could see a fella running around. He just had shorts on and was running up the back steps and he was yelling.

“Then I heard my wife say, ‘Get out of the house, get out of the house’, and I then heard him say there’s someone inside. She said, ‘Get out!’

“My wife said he was apparently trying to get a blanket over his head to go back into the house.

“By that time I had got off the phone and came back down to put some shoes on in case I had to hop the fence and go and lend a hand.

“I saw another guy who was fully clothed. He ran around the side of the house and was looking pretty panicked.

“Then the fire service arrived and started getting into their work and putting the fire out.

“Once they had a hose on it, it died down pretty quickly.”

Rowse said when he walked up his driveway during the incident he saw six or seven police cars, four fire trucks, and three ambulances in Minerva Terrace.

“They had blocked off the street from roundabout to roundabout.”

He later saw the man wearing shorts standing outside the house with his hands on his head and being given a bowl of water.

Rowse said he hadn’t spoken to the people living at the property before but often heard them playing music.

“They had only been there about a year and the only time I ever saw them was when they were mowing the lawn.

“I figured they work from home and they just like loud music.”

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