THREE ON TRIAL FOR FATAL TONGA FIRE

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Eight people died in November 2006 riot fire

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, June 27, 2008) – A FORENSIC investigator from the Australian Federal Police told the Nuku'alofa Court this morning, Friday June 27 that the fire that gutted the Shoreline Building on November 16, 2006 was deliberately lit.

On Day 9 of the trial of 'Isileli Pulu and two co-accused, a witness for the Crown, Garreth Williams said that their forensic investigation of the gutted Shoreline Building started three days after the riots.

Their examination of the scene revealed that it was a rapidly burning fire and it was deliberately lit. They also identified the area of origin to be the general area encompassing the storeroom to northwest of the storeroom on the ground floor of the building.

They also concluded that the fire was not started in the office area at the back of the building, the bathroom, the driveway or the area on the front door.

"Because of the amount of fire and damage to the area of origin we could not conclusively determine whether there were more than one fire set."

He said that prior to their arrival to inspect the crime scene the storeroom was already cleared and the deceased were also moved from the scene they were allegedly found in.

"Therefore we were unable to make any conclusion as to where the deceased were found", said Garreth.

The eight deceased have been identified as Viliami Polovili, Senituli Tauki'uvea, 'Iteni Kauvaka, Samisoni Siola'a, Li'ekina Latu, Seluini Leone, Talaiasi Malamala and Kelisimi Po'uliva'ati.

The witness also confirmed to the court that they did not detect any odour of ignitable liquids, but based on the timeframe of when we arrived it was not unusual for such liquid like petrol to evaporate.

He also said accelerants could have been used to light the fire but there were other factors that could have contributed to the speed of the fire, including the wind at the time and the type of furniture in the area.

The investigator could not tell if liquid started the fire but he said based on how quickly the fire spread, it is very likely that accelerant was used but he was not 100 percent sure.

The witness also said they were not able to thoroughly inspect the first or upper floor of the building because engineers advised against it the only inspection they did was taking photos.

We concluded based on the damage to the first floor that if a fire was set there, it wasn't the only fire in the building there had to be another fire set on the ground floor.

The witness was also uncertain on how the fire was lit on this day and he was not able to find any evidence of accelerant.

But he added the smell of accelerant could have already evaporated when they arrived for their investigation because of the temperature at the time and considering a large area of scene was already disturbed.

He added that while carrying their inspection of the ground floor they found heavily damaged footwear, items of clothing and several bones of human legs believed to be of the deceased.

"We collected the items in separate bags and we took possession of the clothing and footwear and handed over the bones to the Crime Scene Unit of the Tonga Police," he said.

The jury trial continues next week.

People's Representative 'Isileli Pulu, has pleaded not guilty to charges of abetment to murder and abetment to arson relating to the deaths in the Shoreline building fire during the riots of November 16, 2006, in which he is alleged to have indirectly incited his two co-accused to commit the crimes of murder and arson.

The co-accused, Sosefo 'Amone and Siosiua 'Ulutaufonua are charged with nine counts each of murder and arson endangering life.

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