Memories of home destroyed by arson

DEENA COSTER
Last updated 05:00 25/07/2014

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A South Taranaki family homestead handed down through the generations is no more after it was destroyed by arson last month.

The Katotauru Rd property, which belongs to Okaiawa dairy farmer Brett Shearer, was gutted by the fire and now all that is left on the site is freshly sown grass seed and a water tank Shearer's father built.

Shearer said his father bought the house in 1946 from his great grandfather and he, along with his five siblings, were raised there amid the flourishing garden and apple orchard.

In recent times, Shearer had rented the house out, but the arson put paid to not only the extra income, but more importantly, to the family history and memories.

"That's what really hurts," he said.

Shearer said his family had come to terms with what had happened now but they were left wondering about the motives of the man responsible for the destruction.

"Whatever happens to him, I just hope he sorts himself out," Shearer said.

Chris David Gurney, 23, pleaded guilty to charges of arson, wilful damage and assaulting a female when he appeared in the Hawera District Court earlier this month in connection with the June 22 offending.

Gurney, his partner and 3-year-old son were living in the house before the fire. During an argument between the pair, Gurney smashed property as well as all the windows in the house. He returned later the same day, after his partner and child had left, and set fire to the house. He was arrested shortly after in Stratford.

Shearer said he had tried to be a good landlord over the years and had recently renovated the house, including putting on a new roof and installing aluminium windows.

But despite this, and the leniency he showed to tenants when the rent was late, Shearer is not only financially out of pocket but feels emotionally short-changed by the whole experience.

"I don't know whether it pays off or not, when you get caught out like this," he said

He said one thing he was thankful for was that nobody had been hurt or killed during the fire.

Although Shearer and his wife were insured, issues were still being worked through and it remained unclear what the true financial impact would be on them. ‘We've lost a big asset," he said.

In the meantime, what was left of the house has already been demolished and the land is to be turned back into pasture.

Gurney will reappear in the Hawera District Court for sentencing on August 12.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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