Publican burns pub - court

The blaze that destroyed Kawerau's Pinelands Hotel had two possible explanations: either two men forced their way into the pub, doused the publican in petrol and robbed him before setting the place alight, or the publican did it.

Ace Insurance argued it was an elaborate ruse cooked up by publican Dennis Angus.

Last month, five days after Angus passed away after a battle with cancer, the High Court released a judgment siding with the insurance company.

Justice Mark Cooper decided Angus probably burned down the ailing business himself and he upheld Ace Insurance's decision not to pay out the policy.

Angus had argued two men with hoodies and scarves over their faces forced him into the hotel and threatened to set him on fire using a red and yellow lighter.

The men took him to the office where he opened the safe and filled a shopping bag with an estimated $10,000 in cash.

He said the men tied his hands together in front of him with tape then made him lead them into the hotel and disarm the alarm.

The men filled bags with bottles of alcohol, mainly bourbon, and then hit him over the back of the head, he said.

When he regained consciousness the building had been set alight. Angus said he crawled out of the building as the robbers fled into the night.

Justice Cooper gave a lengthy description of discrepancies with the story. He said dousing Angus was an "odd" way to coerce him to give them money and he could have been threatened "more straightforwardly" with a weapon.

A chemical analysis of the accelerants used in the fire identified that there were two different types - one a mixture of petrol and kerosene and the other, just petrol. Angus had the petrol-kerosene mixture on his clothing but only petrol on his shoes.

Justice Cooper said the most likely explanation was that it was splashed there as it was poured.

A trail of evidence leading from the scene, including a bottle of bourbon standing upright on a tree stump, "did not ring true".

The wound on Angus's head that supposedly knocked him out was superficial and involved some minor swelling. Angus also had motive as the business was not doing well and had been for sale for about four years.

"I have concluded on the balance of probabilities that the fire at the Pinelands Hotel was set by Mr Angus for the purpose of making a false claim . . ."

The Angus family declined to comment.

Sunday Star Times