Tensions rose near the end of day one into an inquest into the deaths of three young Hamilton people after one of the witnesses changed his evidence.

Oscar Schollum was midway through his evidence in the Hamilton Coroner's Court today when he remembered friend, and fire survivor Bayley Reid, coming downstairs of the Collingwood St villa he was asleep in about 40 minutes before it caught fire.

Toni Maree Johnston, 23, Jake Lindsey Hayes, 19 and Connor Swetman all died in the November 15, 2014 blaze.

Police launched an investigation but were never able to determine how the fire started or if it was suspicious. No criminal charges were ever laid but Detective Sergeant William Loughrin said they would reopen the file if they were presented with new evidence.


Schollum was one of 32 who attended the party organised by Hayes. Those who gave evidence before Coroner Gordon Matenga today said there was no specific reason for the party, it was simply just a night to get together and have drinks.

Others who gave evidence, included survivor Bayley Reid who was in a bedroom with Hayes and Swetman. He wrapped his jersey around his fist to punch the glass of a verandah door to flee.

He thought the others were behind him, stating they were about "half a metre away".

Last to give evidence was Schollum who was involved in a fight with Hayes after Hayes accused him of taking one of his beers.

Jake Hayes, Toni Maree Johnston and Connor Swetman all died in a house fire in Hamilton. Photos / Supplied
Jake Hayes, Toni Maree Johnston and Connor Swetman all died in a house fire in Hamilton. Photos / Supplied

Hayes punched him in the head, sending him to the ground.

When giving evidence Schollum said he didn't know why he got hit or who hit him. All he remembered was landing on the driveway and grass area.

When questioned by Sergeant Baden Hilton about why his hands were covered in dirt, Schollum said he got it after landing in scrub from the fight.

When questioned further, Schollum said he left the party soon after the fight about 3.45am.

"It was all a bit of a blur ... the mood of the party changed after that ... I only stayed around for another 10 minutes."

However, his friend, Reid, recalled seeing him fast asleep on one of the couches when he went downstairs to find a lighter at 4.20am.

When pressed further, Schollum accepted that and said he recalled seeing Reid come downstairs.

It was at that point Coroner Matenga halted proceedings to allow Schollum to get legal advice to ensure he knew his rights under the Evidence Act, in making sure that what he said did not incriminate him.

After getting advice, Schollum agreed to continue giving evidence.

However, the change in evidence prompted several questions from the public gallery, including Hayes' mother, Kim Healey, who asked the coroner why Schollum was allowed to stay in the public gallery as others gave their evidence before him, earlier in the day.

Healey said she found it "unfortunate".

"I find it unfortunate that Mr Schollum has had the opportunity to listen to everybody else's evidence before he has able to give his own and I question the court that he has been allowed to change his statement, after his written statement has clearly been different to what he's made and told the police."

The court earlier heard from Loughrin that the fire started on one of three couches in the downstairs lounge.

The coroner pressed Schollum about whether he smoked or saw anyone smoking on any of the couches during the night, however he didn't recall see anybody do that, nor did he admit knowing anything about the damage sustained to a vehicle owned by one of the flatmates which had human faeces left on the windshield.

Hayes' friend Liam Johnston said Hayes spent most of the night behind the makeshift bar downstairs, as well sorting the music being played from the laptop.

Earlier today the inquest heard how, as smoke and flames began to surround him, Joseph Soutar lifted up his shocked friend and carried her to safety as their house erupted into fire behind them.

After Soutar took Bianca Peautolu to safety on Collingwood St during the early hours of November 15, 2014, he ran back to try and help others who he knew might have been trapped inside.

Soutar, who was one of six flatmates living in an old villa, gave evidence during a coroner's inquest into the deaths of Toni Johnston, 23, Jake Hayes, 19, and Connor Swetman, 17, in Hamilton today.

The house fire which claimed the lives of the three young Hamilton people began on one of three couches in the downstairs living room.

The families of Swetman, Johnston and Hayes will hope to find some answers at the inquest, which is set down for four days and being heard by coroner Gordon Matenga.

Police closed their investigation more than a year ago and referred the matter to the coroner.

Soutar said he was first alerted to the fire by friend Jesse Tudor, who was kicking and punching him awake saying something about a fire.

Tudor had been sleeping on a couch in the lounge downstairs.

Soutar thought he was mucking him around so told him to "**** off" and shut the door.

He said Tudor returned a short time later and was covered in black soot.

But it was when Peautolu opened the door that they realised the severity of what was going on.

Soutar said it took about three seconds for his bedroom, which had high ceilings, to fill with smoke after the door opened.

"It was really hot coming from the hallway. You wouldn't even want to try and attempt to run into the hallway."

After Peautolu opened the door and he felt the heat and smoke burst through, Soutar turned and kicked his veranda doors open and went outside. However, he then realised Peautolu wasn't behind him so he ran back in and discovered her still holding on to the bedroom door, in shock.

He lifted her up and carried her outside before running back into the house, to Hayes' room. However, he noticed the flames bursting out through the windows so decided against trying to get in. Instead, he ran to the back of the house and started banging on Johnston's wall.

"I ran downstairs and straight to Toni's room and tried to climb up to her room and was just punching the wall, telling her to wake up and I didn't know whether she was in there or not, so I gave up on that [after about 20 seconds]."

He then ran to check on his cousin, Raine Tarawa, who shared a room with boyfriend Michael Heyes, however, they were already standing on the footpath.

When questioned by Sergeant Baden Hilton about smoke alarms, Soutar said they weren't working.

Soutar said he went to bed between 4.30am and 5am.

Johnston's father, Mark, asked Soutar if he saw his daughter that night. Soutar said he last saw her being led up to her room by a friend after a night out on the town.

Soutar earlier added in his evidence that there was a power point in the downstairs lounge which had two multiboxes plugged into it which fed a laptop, two strobe lights and a fridge.

Two couches and a Lazyboy were nearby.

The oven often had to be turned off at the wall as the elements would remain on high, while lightbulbs had to be replaced weekly as they kept blowing out.

"We told the landlord but he didn't really seem to care," Soutar said.

He said there were smoke alarms but they didn't work. Some were positioned too high on the ceiling to replace the batteries.

There was also a heat pump but it didn't work, he said.

There was also only one key to the nine-bedroom house which was the only part of the house that was ever locked, he said.

Bayley Reid was asleep in a room with Hayes and Swetman. He told the coroner he was woken by yelling and then saw a massive orange glow coming from underneath the window. He told the others. Hayes replied, "it will be all right", while Swetman replied "oh ****, it's a fire".

He said they got up and tried to go out through hallway but the smoke was too thick. He then got his jersey and wrapped it round his fist and smashed the window.

Reid said he believed Hayes and Swetman were about half a metre behind him as he prepared to jump out the window.

He then ran to the road where he vomited and gained his breath. He couldn't see Hayes or Swetman.

Reid also told the coroner that before the fire, at about 4.20am, he went downstairs to find a lighter and found Oscar Schollum and Jesse Tudor asleep, snoring, on separate couches downstairs.

Detective Sergeant William Loughrin was the first to take the stand.

He confirmed the fire started on one of three couches in the downstairs-based lounge.

He described how Hayes organised the party, telling friends and sending out an invite on Facebook.

On the night, the group of 32, was drinking and smoking cannabis throughout the night. A fight began in the early hours of the morning between Hayes and Schollum, in which Schollum was hit by Hayes, after Hayes claimed he had stolen one of his beers.

A second fight also broke out between two other party-goers. Police were called to the nearby BP, however, when they arrived they found nothing.

Emergency services were called to the blaze at 5.02am, with the Fire Service arriving at 5.07am.

Post-mortems were carried out on all victims, who were identified using forensic measures. All died due to smoke inhalation.

Swetman was found to have a carbon monoxide saturation level of 52 per cent. The fatal level is 40 per cent.

He had a blood alcohol level of 28mg. He also had cannabis and party pills in his system.

Johnston, who was found in her room next to her bedroom door, had a blood alcohol level of 182mg. She had a carbon monoxide level of 49 per cent.

Hayes was also found in his bedroom, on the floor. He had a blood alcohol level of 212mg, with a carbon monoxide level of 50 per cent. He also had traces of cannabis and party pills in his system.

An examination of a car owned by flatmate Michael Heyes was found to have human faeces on the front windscreen as well as a woodchip in one of the tyres.

Loughrin said no one had been charged over the incident yet, however, police would reopen the investigation if they received any new information.

Officer in charge Daryl Gera said the house, when previously operated as a commercial business, had a monitored smoke alarm system.

However, it wasn't operating as it wasn't plugged in and the back-up battery was flat.

He said he couldn't be sure if there were smoke alarms in the house because of the extent of the damage.

Police engaged the services of an internationally recognised independent fire investigator to review the fire investigation and he agreed with the original findings, the Herald reported earlier.

The inquest will continue tomorrow, with four witnesses left to give evidence. About 50 family and friends are also in the public gallery.