Anyone could have lit fires - lawyer

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 12:00 12/02/2013

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The lawyer for the former Foxton Racing Club caretaker accused of lighting five fires at the town's racecourse says there is "a lack of any real evidence" against his client and the fires could have been lit by a jockey.

The Crown says Kelvin Mark Webb, 36, is responsible for the fires that destroyed property between November 18 and December 18, 2011.

The first blaze damaged the Foxton racecourse's members' grandstand, while one on November 27 damaged the caretaker's shed and garage.

Fires on November 19 and 23 and December 18 damaged stables.

Before Justice Jillian Mallon and a jury in the High Court at Palmerston North yesterday, Webb entered not guilty pleas to five charges of arson.

Defence lawyer Fergus Steedman said the Crown case against Webb was circumstantial.

"The lack of any real evidence in this case is so profound that when everything is boiled down to basics, all we end up with is suspicion. That's not enough."

Mr Steedman reminded the jury to think about witnesses' motives when they gave evidence, particularly Webb's former associate, jockey Danny Stamm.

There was circumstantial evidence against another person who police took an "intense interest" in at one stage.

Mr Steedman also urged the jury to consider when witnesses made statements to police. Was it before Webb's arrest or after he was charged amid a "blaze of publicity"?

Crown prosecutor Andrea Read said Webb started working as the racecourse caretaker in August 2011.

On November 18 he was drinking at home with "associate" Dustin Halidone, another jockey.

After Mr Halidone left, Webb made "several purchases" at a shop just after 11pm, before returning home.

He is then accused of smashing a window of the racecourse grandstand and starting a fire in the jockeys' room rubbish bin.

The next night Webb was again drinking at home. About 10.40pm he went to a block of stables and set fire to hay bales inside, Miss Read said.

"The block of 24 stables was completely destroyed by the fire, along with the property of various horse trainers."

On November 23, it is alleged Webb again set fire to hay in a block of stables, destroying 13 out of 24 stables and more trainers' equipment.

On the night of November 26, Webb had been at home with Mr Halidone and Mr Stamm and was drinking and smoking cannabis.

About 4.30am the following day Webb set fire to the caretaker's woodshed using diesel as an accelerant, Miss Read said.

This caused "considerable damage" to the shed and a garage.

Several showjumping competitors were staying at the racecourse that night. When Webb was woken by a security guard, he helped put the fire out.

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Finally, about 12.15am on December 18, Webb allegedly set fire to another block of stables after drinking earlier in the night.

This time 15 of the 30 stables in the block were destroyed.

Miss Read said the Foxton racecourse had been operating for decades and, as far is it is known, had no problems with arsonists before.

However, just three weeks after Webb became caretaker there, a car he used was taken from the course and found ablaze in Foxton.

Attempts by Webb in police interviews to blame Mr Stamm for the arsons were to "deflect suspicion and attention away from himself", Miss Read said.

The jury was shown a DVD of security footage from November 18, 2011, when Webb went to the Mobil petrol station in Foxton.

He bought an icecream and a lighter and left shortly after 11pm.

The trial is expected to finish next week.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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