Murder-case house set on fire again

The Kaitangata house at the centre of a murder investigation last month was torched and almost gutted last night in what police said was obviously an arson attack.

It was the second attempt in just three days to try to destroy the house. Police said last night the Old Coach Rd property had become a target since it became the centre of so much police attention in mid-January.

Teenage murder victim Michael Hutchings lived in the house with two others in the days leading up to his death last month. His body, weighed down with steel bars, was recovered from the Clutha River, near Stirling, on January 12.

Opinion around Kaitangata last night was that it was only a matter of time before someone successfully torched the house. Fire crews from Kaitangata and Balclutha were called to the fire at 7.25pm and it was well involved by the time they arrived.

Detective Sergeant Kate Harrison said the fire in the unoccupied house was already ‘‘well on its way'' and fire crews could only restrict the blaze from damaging neighbouring properties.

It was too early to confirm where the fire started, but she suspected it could have begun somewhere towards the rear of the house. Although it had not yet been confirmed, the blaze was ‘‘definitely suspicious'' and accelerants of some kind were almost certainly used.

Whoever was responsible had ‘‘huge gumption'' to commit this type of crime in the early evening and not under the cover of darkness, Det Sgt Harrison said.

While the house was still standing, the interior was extensively damaged. It is thought the house was not insured. New Zealand Fire Service investigators would be at the scene this morning to try to determine the cause.

Balclutha police who had been investigating Saturday morning's arson attempt at the house, revealed earlier yesterday louvre windows were removed to gain access to the house and an accelerant used to set fire to books in the lounge.

The liquid accelerant had also been poured in a bedroom. The alarm was raised after a resident smelt smoke about 6am.

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