Convictions upheld in racecourse arson case

JONO GALUSZKA
Last updated 12:00 19/12/2013

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The former caretaker of Foxton Racecourse, who caused $500,000 of damage to the racecourse in a series of arsons, has had his appeal against conviction dismissed.

However, the Court of Appeal felt the prosecutor overstepped the mark in his closing address, even though his comments did not create a miscarriage of justice.

Kelvin Mark Webb was found guilty of four counts of arson after his jury trial in February. The jury found him not guilty on a fifth count of arson.

He was sentenced to six years and eight months' imprisonment.

The charges came about after five fires were lit around Foxton Racecourse late in 2011.

Webb appealed, submitting that the verdict was unreasonable - that being found not guilty on one count made the other four verdicts inconsistent, and that Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk had used overly emotive language.

In the Court of Appeal decision released yesterday, Justice Tony Randerson said there was enough evidence for the verdict, and there was enough doubt around one count to find Webb not guilty on it.

Defence lawyer Fergus Steedman had argued that the lack of a motive and forensic evidence, and no admission to police, combined with many other factors, proved the verdict was unreasonable.

But Justice Randerson said there was enough circumstantial evidence to prove Webb was guilty.

"While it may be possible to challenge aspects of each of the strands [of evidence], it is the combined weight of the evidence that counts.

"The present case is a classic example of the operation of this principle in practice."

Mr Steedman argued Webb could not be cleared on one charge and found guilty on the rest, as the evidence for the charge was almost the same as the others.

Justice Randerson said the other four charges had more evidence attached to them.

Mr Steedman also submitted that Mr Vanderkolk's language during his closing argument was designed to prejudice the jury against Webb.

Justice Randerson said parts of the closing went beyond what was expected from a prosecutor, with "extravagant and emotive" language used, but it did not create a miscarriage of justice.

The bulk of the closing address focused on analysing the evidence, which was presented properly.

Justice Randerson also noted Mr Steedman never objected to Mr Vanderkolk's addressing the trial, and that the judge told the jury to forget about sympathy and prejudice while analysing the facts.

Mr Steedman declined to comment.

Mr Vanderkolk said it would be wrong to comment on a Court of Appeal judgment.

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- Manawatu Standard

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