The final act of an arsonist

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 12:00 30/12/2013
Fairfax NZ

The Foxton Grandstand has been demolished after standing as a scorched ruin in the wake of an arson attack.

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The century-old scorched grandstand at the Foxton Racecourse, which sat for the past two years as a stark reminder of arsonist Kelvin Webb's trail of destruction, has been demolished.

As Foxton Racing Club members watched the grandstand tumble down at the weekend, they said they still struggled to understand Webb's actions.

A string of arson attacks on the Horowhenua racecourse in late 2011 left horse stalls, gear sheds and the club's biggest structure, its grandstand, all charred.

Contractors were on site with an excavator on Saturday and yesterday, tearing down what remained of the fire-ravaged two-storied grandstand. The 100-year-old hardwood structure was reduced to rubble, its under-foot concrete cracked and the waste then burned.

The east end of the grandstand was ruined after the racecourse's former caretaker, Webb, 37, set fire to it and a string of other buildings, causing $500,000 worth of damage.

The Foxton Racing Club was told it would cost about $2 million to repair the grandstand to its former glory.

Club president Bruce Vickers said it was cheaper to pull it down, with the untreated, borer-infested macrocarpa wood worthless to salvage or sell on.

Vickers said losing the landmark tugged at the heartstrings of the club's members and marked the end of an era.

"I've been in the club 12 years, but some of the other members who have been here longer than me were dismayed to see it happen. But we've got to move on, move into the 21st century and start afresh."

Blueprints were being drawn up for a new grandstand, with plans for it to become the "new face of Foxton".

"It kicked everybody into action, it ignited people, and has made us more determined to rectify the situation," Vickers said.

Webb was found guilty of four counts of arson after his jury trial in February, acquitted on a further arson charge, and jailed for six years and eight months.

He yelled his innocence from the dock in the High Court in Palmerston North, saying: "You've got it wrong. I didn't do it, Your Honour".

Vickers said club members were still struggling to understand why Webb torched buildings he was employed to care for.

"He had some sort of beef with his employer, but there's a way to talk about those sorts of things rather than burning down buildings that don't belong to you.

"We just couldn't quite understand what the man was about."

Earlier this month, Webb had his appeal against his convictions dismissed. He argued that the verdicts were unreasonable because being found not guilty on one count meant the other four verdicts were inconsistent.

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- Manawatu Standard

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