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Caretaker denies racecourse fires

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 12:00 13/02/2013

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On the night of the first Foxton racecourse fire, a track rider was drinking with arson-accused Kelvin Webb at his house.

The pair polished off a box of Cody's bourbon and cola and smoked cannabis before a "wasted" Dustin Halidone went home.

On that night - November 18, 2011 - somebody lit a fire in the Foxton racecourse's grandstand.

It was the first of five fires at the racecourse between then and December 18, 2011, that the Crown says were lit by Webb, who was the racecourse's caretaker. On trial at the High Court at Palmerston North, Webb has pleaded not guilty to five charges of arson.

Mr Halidone said yesterday he initially told police he left Webb's place at 12.30am on November 19, 2011.

Webb is accused of starting the grandstand fire after he bought an icecream and cigarette lighter shortly after 11pm on November 18.

Mr Halidone told Justice Jillian Mallon and the jury it was Webb who suggested he had left later than he actually did.

"It must have been the Monday [November 21] I visited Kevin's house. He said ‘you must have left about 12.30am'." Some time later when Mr Halidone asked his girlfriend about the night of the fire, she told him he was home before the fire siren sounded.

On November 21, over a coffee, Mr Halidone and Webb discussed the grandstand fire and a November 19 fire that destroyed stables.

"It was something along the lines of: ‘I thought he'd done it. He thought I'd done it'," Mr Halidone said.

After both denied involvement the pair talked about who else could have done it.

They talked again after more stables burned on November 23.

"I said ‘I'm a suspect. We're both a suspect because we were both there most of those nights'." "He said ‘Yeah I know, I'll be a suspect'." Webb then told him he was worried about staying in his house as the fires were getting "closer and closer".

Three days later Webb's caretaker's shed was set alight.

Mr Halidone said the fires made him angry as they were affecting people's livelihoods.

The defence says the case against Webb is circumstantial and others could have been responsible, including track rider Danny Stamm.

Defence lawyer Fergus Steedman asked Mr Halidone how Mr Stamm was the morning after the shed fire.

Mr Halidone said Mr Stamm was angry, having that morning and the night before had a fight with people who accused him of being the arsonist.

Charlotte Millar and Grant Laursen lost most of their horse equipment, gear and feed during the first stables blaze.

Ms Millar said that as she watched the fire take hold Webb offered her a can of Cody's.

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She thought it odd that he would try to give her a drink while her possessions were going up in smoke.

Mr Steedman asked her if Webb's offer could have been born of kindness, like when he offered her a jersey. "No, I don't think so," Ms Millar said. Mr Steedman asked Mr Laursen about his relationship with Mr Stamm and if Mr Stamm had asked him for money after a run of success in October and November 2011.

Mr Stamm previously rode the winning horses and thought he might have been entitled to a share, Mr Steedman said.

"He may have asked for a bit of a sling," Mr Laursen said.

"The norm was to buy them a few drinks, have a shout." Mr Laursen said he rented a house belonging to Mr Stamm's brother, but turned down Mr Stamm's request to park his caravan on the property.

The trial continues.

- Manawatu Standard

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