Fifth body found in burnt out New Zealand hostel, man appears in court on arson charges


Wellington (Reuters) – A 48-year-old homeless man appeared in New Zealand court on Friday on two charges of arson as police found a fifth body in the burnt out remains of a hostel in the capital Wellington.

A blaze broke out on the top floor of the Loafers Lodge in the suburb of Newtown in the early hours of Tuesday, causing major structural damage that is hampering recovery efforts.

New Zealand Fire and Emergency earlier this week confirmed the death toll was at least six, however Inspector Dion Bennett, acting Wellington police district commander, said that at this stage just five bodies had been identified and less than 10 people were unaccounted for.

“Until we have fully examined all parts of the building we remain reluctant to confirm the specific number of deceased,” Bennett said at press conference on Friday.

The hostel provided accommodation for people including construction workers, hospital staff, but also for those on sickness and disability benefits and some were serving sentences in the community for minor crimes.

A 48-year-old man, who has his name suppressed until at least his next court appearance, appeared in Wellington District Court briefly on Friday afternoon. He appeared agitated in the docks, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt over his head and dancing and making hand gestures to the media.

“Someone else done it,” he yelled before being asked by the judge to quieten down. He also said he was firing his lawyer given bail was not going to be granted.

His lawyer continue to represent him. He was remanded in jail until next month. Further charges are possible.

Bennett said police had yet to make it into parts of the building as it remain dangerous due to structural issues that work to make it safer was ongoing.

“The scene examination will continue over the weekend and we hope to recover the fifth person as quickly as we can,” Bennett said.

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