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30 March 2012

author copies have just arrived this week for WHERE THERE’S SMOKE:The Fire That Changed the Law. This is the book that my friend and collaborator Linnette Horne and I have spent several years researching and writing. It covers four fires that occurred in Wellington over the four years from 1967 to 1971, one of which killed seven people and which resulted in major changes and improvements to National Fire Safety Regulations.
It shows the progression from almost no regulations at all, to an ongoing desire to tighten these to a point where no more lives will be lost in fires at boarding houses, old people’s homes, or nursing homes.
It’s a book I’d always wanted to write. Seven women died in the main fire, which I have always believed to be arson. There were also a number of peculiar events surrounding it and the subsequent inquest. Discrepencies in evidence given, major anomalies in quoted times, and what seemed to me to be to be deliberate cover-ups abounded. And the inquest conclusion – that those involved could find absolutely no way in which this fire could have possibly been started by accident …therefore it must have been an accident, baffles me to this day.
I have always hoped that one day the case would be reopened, and that the seven who died could have some kind of justice. Linnette, who was herself a victim of one of a series of 21 arson attacks in Wellington over the late 1990s, with no perpetrator ever charged, was keen to work with me on this story. As we have seen very recently in Christchurch, arson is immensely destructive, personally horrifying, and very costly. It is too often discounted as a prank with no malice intended. We would like that to charge and we’d like to see the main fire – Sprott House in July of 1969 – reconsidered as a cold case by the Wellington police of today.

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