Security was high in the Hamilton Coroner's Court this morning as a witness was brought in from custody to give evidence.

Jesse Tudor was the seventh witness to give evidence in the inquest into the deaths of Toni Maree Johnston, 23, Jake Lindsey Hayes, 19 and Connor Swetman, 17, who died in a horrific blaze of a Collingwood St villa on November 15, 2014.

Tudor was flanked by four Corrections Department staff as he was brought into the courtroom and then refused to read or have his evidence read.

Tudor said he had already read his statement in the court cells so Coroner Gordon Matenga then asked him to confirm it was correct.


"So if anyone asks you any questions you will refuse to answer those questions," the Coroner asked.

"Yep," Tudor replied.

However, when pressed by police counsel Baden Hilton if he could at least "consider" an answer before declining, Tudor agreed.

Tudor said he saw party-goers smoking both marijuana and tobacco inside the house.

Others who had earlier given evidence had said nobody was smoking inside.

Tudor said he had been trying to block out what happened that night as it had been so traumatic.

However, when asked, Tudor said he recalled seeing a "wall of flame" from the downstairs bedroom he was sleeping in.

He said the flames were in the archway of the entrance to the downstairs area. He then ran upstairs and frantically tried waking up his friend, Joseph Soutar.

After getting him outside, Soutar recalled that his cousin, Michael Heyes, along with his girlfriend, Raine Tarawa, were still inside.

Tudor said he ran back up the stairs to kick the door only to be blown back down the stairs by the force of the fire.

In his statement, Tudor said he woke to black smoke in his room and after getting up ran into the lounge which he said was engulfed in flames and black smoke. He ran straight up to Soutar's room.

Hamilton man Jake Hayes who died in the Collingwood St blaze on November 15, 2014.
Hamilton man Jake Hayes who died in the Collingwood St blaze on November 15, 2014.

Johnston and Hayes were two of six people living in the house at the time.

Soutar's friend, Bianca Peautolu, also gave evidence. She broke down halfway through her testimony as she recalled seeing Swetman sitting on the couch, looking drunk, and also her memories of Hayes throughout the night.

Neither she nor Tudor recalled hearing any smoke alarms going off.

She was woken by Tudor telling them to "get the **** up".

"He was running through the bedrooms ... trying to wake everyone up ... I thought he was just being a dick and I didn't want to wake up."

It was then Tudor came back in the room and told them again to get out as there was a fire.

Peautolu said she stood in shock when she opened Soutar's bedroom door as a wall of black smoke rushed in. She remembered Soutar telling her to follow him as he walked out on to the deck, which was on fire, but froze.

"I could see the shadow of the flames in the hallway and got the impression that the flames were coming from downstairs."

Soutar helped her out as she held her jacket over her head; both her jacket and her hair were singed.

Once she got to safety Peautolu said she freaked out and ran off before getting picked up by Soutar near Hamilton Girls' High School.

Johnston's father, Mark, asked Peautolu if she noticed anyone else smoking tailor-made cigarettes but she said she believed the others were smoking rollies.Often in coroner's court, the Coroner will allow family members the opportunity to ask questions.

Senior specialist fire investigator Peter Hallett told the Coroner the cause of the fire had been narrowed down to either arson or accidental, such as a lit object being dropped onto a combustible object and catching fire.

Mark Johnston asked Hallett about how long a tailor-made cigarette would continue to burn, and Hallett said it could be between 11 and 22 minutes.

However, there had to be several factors in flow to keep the cigarette burning.

Hallett said fire started in the downstairs lounge area. However, due to the extent of the damage it was uncertain exactly where the fire started but he said it was in the "southwestern side".

There was significant damage to the lounge floor but ESR could not find any traces of any flammable liquid. Hallett said there could be a variety of causes but due to insufficient evidence to confirm any of them it would be regarded as ''undetermined''.

When questioned by the coroner about how common it was for a discarded cigarette to start a fire on a couch in New Zealand, Hallett said it wasn't.

"I can't recall any [situations] ... maybe in some grass or loose debris or paper but not inside."

Hallett said a smouldering cigarette could only cause a fire "in perfect circumstances".

The house sustained the most damage around the couch and the hallway and bedroom directly above it, the floor of which fell to the bottom storey.

"There was very little remaining of the couch. It had burnt out the wall behind it, so if it wasn't the couch it was something very close to it."

He said although the fire was tragic, it was the catalyst to the changes made to the Residential Tenancies Act which now requires landlords to install smoke alarms in rental properties.

A specialist electrical engineer had ruled out either of the multi-boxes, which were stacked on top of each other, as a cause.

Specialist forensic scientist Marnix Kelderman also gave evidence.

He said although party-goers told police they weren't smoking inside, there was still a possibility that they did but simply couldn't remember due to the amount of alcohol and drugs that were consumed that night.

A couch, dubbed couch one, where it was possible the fire had started, was old, frayed and damaged and more susceptible to catching fire than the other two couches.

Kelderman said his reasoning for the couch being a possibility was the fact the power mains were located in the ceiling directly above area of origin. Once on fire, it shut down the power mains causing no further arcing of light fittings.

The inquest has now been adjourned until Friday when two more witnesses, occupants Michael Heyes and partner Raine Tarawa, will give evidence.