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TUNA AGRICULTURAL WAT.T.

DESTROYED BY FIRE. THE CORONER'S FINDING.

* * The Coroner's inquiry into the cir cumstances attending the fire which oc curred at Yuua Hall 'on December 18 was held yesterday morning at the.. Court House, before Mr. B. Gee. In-' spector Simpson conducted the inquiry on behalf of the police, and Mr. H. W. Morrisby appeared for the trustees. Dcnnont Ryan said he worked with

house being about a quarter of a mile away from the hall. On Sunday, De cember .18, he reached home about mid night, 'and noticed nothing unusual about the hall as he rode past, but he would be about 200 yards away and he had not a clear view. Whilst un saddling his horse he saw a light at the hall, but paid no particular atten tion . to it. A quarter of an houn» or so later hie heard a noise, and on going outside he saw the hall was in flames. He called his younger brother, and they watched the fire fox a few minutes. They saw and heard the hall fall and the small -shed at the rear was just catching alight. He went to the hall, tii 4* +1% orr-a -nra a -n r\ nn a +V ova TTa -rrv4-

UUU VUVtV 1* IU} AJ.V VJJ.V llJJL^/A^S* J~--V ^VtS into the shed and succeeded in putting out the flames by smashing down the south and west walls. He saw a kero sene tin lying on its side empty. It was blackened hy fire. It was useless to try to save the main*building, as it was gutted, having utterly collapsed. The following morning, he informed the secretary, Mr. H. Buchanan, and Mr. G. Vian, one of the trustees, and the agent for the insurance company. - Br Mr. Morrisby: Their house was nearest to the hall, which was on a re serve. The nearest land was Mr. D. Ahern's. There were sheep in Mr. Ahern's paddock, but there was no chance of the fire spreading from the hall to the feed in the paddock. The Plough and Harrow was on the south of the tall, and Mr. Ahern's place on the west. There were two routes from the inn to Mr. Ahern's, one past the hall and. one more to the south. The hall was lighted by hanging kerosene lamps. By the BJUL: The shortest way from the inn to Ahern's would not be past the halL On being shown the plan the witness said the road past the hall was about as short as the other. William Hugh Buchanan, farmer, South Yuna, said he believed he was

still one of the trustees of the halL the election on December 18 being, he understood, informal. He was also secretary. A public meeting was. called at 3 p.m. on Sunday, December 18, by the Chairman, Mr. Ahern. Wit ness did not send out any notices. All the trustees were present. The object of the meeting was to elect a commit

tee ox management. it was advertised in both the local newspapers. He did not take any minutes of the meeting, which was attended by ten members, apart from the officers. One of the rules . was that any person, whether trustee or member, before speaking had to pay half a crown. The money was collected by his brother, G. D. Buch anan. There were 14 half-crowns col lected, and one absentee sent half a crown. No receipts were given. A man could not vote at the meeting un less he raid. The monev that dav

was handed to him. Mr. Anderson asked for a balance-sheet to be pre sented to the meeting, and the chair man prodaced a statement, showing what had been spent in building the hall. The receipts from picnics and dances -were shown, and a small credit balance was shown in the bank. The material for the hall, costing £125, was paid for out of the proceeds of two picnics, aided by a Government sub sidy of £50. The hall was erected by a working bee. The meeting closed between 4 p.m. and 4.30 p.m. Ahern closed the hall, and secured the back door by putting a stick across it, the lock being defective. They left to gether by the front door, which Ahern closed. The practice was to lock the door. Witness' brother had the keys previous to the meeting, there having been a vdance on the Saturday, and handed them to Ahern. Subsequently they'-\^ent to^the hotel, but witness and his brother only remained about fifteen minutes, leaving tip others ijiere. The hall was erected at the enfi of 1919. The accounts bad never beeja^tfudited.

In 1919 an- art union was promoted to raise funds, and tickets were issued. He did not handle any. It was stop ped by the police as being illegal. Al together 3,100 tickets were printed, but he did not know whether they were all

distributed. He aid not receive any money on account of tickets seld. Mr. Morrisby asked what was the use of this evidence. Inspector Simpson said it dealt with the finances of the halL The accounts were kept in a slip-shod fashion. The R.M. said the question was per

iniSSlrJIC. iflere luigiit nave »juui± sumc reason for destroying the records. Witness, in further reply to Inspector Simpson, said he understood Ahern had I had some of the books. Some of the| people who held the books still held the books and the money. He lived about 44 miles away. The kerosene was kept in the detached shed at the rear of the halL No cash book was kept; only a minute book was kept. By Mr. Morrisby: They smoked at the meeting — some pipes and some cig arettes. The accounts of the hall were in credit. The E.M. asked how that could be, when no accounts were kept. There was a credit balance in the bank. Mr. Morrisby submitted the B.M. was bound to take the answer, as the wit

ness was the secretary and was sup posed to know. By Mr. Morrisby: He could not say positively whether there was any kero sene in the tin; there was not much, anyhow. By the R.M.: The hall was insured for £150, and the small shed for £25. The premiums were paid up to Decem ber 22, 1921, but the insurance com pany had not paid the claim. By Mr. Morrisby: They had obtained a quote for replacing the building, and the cost was quoted at £218 10/- for

material for the shell only. No books were kept in the hall at alL x'he R.M.: Then if there was a sup position that th4 hall was burned to destroy the books it would fall through. Matthew George Vian, farmer, and recently holder of the Plough and Har row license, said he was one of the trustees of the halL He thought the secretary kept the accounts, but did not know for certain. He had never seen a balance-sheet; they had a meet ing the previous night. Witness asked for a statement of accounts, but the chair man evaded the request. There was a sports committee with a different executive, and on one or two occasions payments had been made into the hall funds. After the meeting witness stayed at the hotel about an hour. He heard of the fire at noon the next day, and, after picking up Ahern at his house, went to the hall. Witness in formed the insurance agents in Gerald ton of the fire, but did not inform the

police. He picked up the lock of the front door, and found the bojt had not been shot. He sold tickets for £5 16/ for the art union in 1919. He still Keld the money, and had never been asked to account for it. By Mr. Morrisby: There were wo debts owing in connection with the IialL By the R.M.: He told the meeting the insurance was due on December 22, and the chairman told the secretary to pay the next year's premiums, and the money was handed to him 'that evening. He had not remitted it tb the company because the place was burnt down. He refunded the premium at the meeting the previous evening. - The company had not paid for the loss. The space under the hall was kept clear of rub bish. Archibald Knowles, licensee of the Plough and Harrow, said he attended the meeting on' December 18. After wards the party adjourned to his house. The men left, at different times, Ahern going soon after 10 o'clock. He was not the last. By the S.M.: It would take Ahern abont half an hour to get home on horse back, and he thought he was more

iiiteiy to taitc tne westerly track. James Jeffery, farmer, said he was a trustee and treasurer of the halL He was present at the meeting on De cember 18. He remembered Anderson asking 'for a balance-sheet, but none was produced,' one not having been pre pared. After the meeting several of them called at the hotel. Ahern left the hotel alone, and was quite sober. He heart! the hall had been burnt the following day, and saw Ahern in the afternoon. Ahern said he took the northern track home, but said he noticed nothing when passing the haH. Wit ness was in the small shed oh the Sun day afternoon, and there was a kere sene tin half fulL Witness had\pur chased the kerosene in March, 1920. They did not use very much at the halL The only books kept in connection with the hall were a minute book and a re ceipt book. No cash book was kept. The expenditure was shown by the re ceipts for amounts paid. Witness pro duced a financial statement finalised at a trustees meeting the previous evening. That showed them with a credit Bal ance of £18 3/8, of which £6 18/- was in the bank. The last picnic and dance to raise funds took place in October, 1920. /The net balance from that was £6 4/8, which was paid into the Trus

tees' Account. ne naa some ox me art union books, and sold tickets to th« value of £15 &/-, less £3 15/- for expenses. He still held the money, and had not been asked to account for it. Ahern distributed the books. No re cord was kept of the tickets issued. The minute book and the receipts were kept by Mr. Buchanan and himself at their homes. By Mr. Morrisby: With the bank book and the receipt book and vouchers, they could make up an account at any time. As the meeting was called to elect a committee, he was not prepared with a balance sheet, and he told Mr. Anderson it would be prepared in a few weeks* time. With regard to the con tributions to the hall he believed Mr. Ahern and he donated the largest sum. It would cost nearly double the insur ance to rebuild the halL An art union for the benefit ©f the hall was organised

in October, 19J.9, and the books of tickets were distributed amongst their friends. The art union was stopped by the police. They were prepared to hand back their money to the purchasers of tickets, and that was intimated by advertisement. None of the money hail been handed to the trustees of the hall. Nothing connected with the art union was in the hall at the time of the fire. By the R.M.: Ahern would go within about a quarter of a mile on his way home. The meeting elected a committee of seven, on which there were none of the old trustees, to manage the affairs All in the room nominated. The trustees were anxious to retire. Alexander Anderson, farmer, said he attended a meeting at the hall four weeks prior to December 18. The four trustees were present. He asked whether a balance . sheet had been pre pared, and was told one would be pro duced on December 18. At the hitter meeting he again asked for the balance sheet. Some figures were given which he could not understand, and expressed the view that a proper balance shee should be prepared. In the ballot for

1 a new committee none of the old mem bers were re-elect cd. He heard about the lire the next day, but had no idea how it originated. They wore piaclical I ly au smoking, and cigarette stumps and pipe ashes would be thrown on the floor. Dennis Ahern. farmer, said he was Chairman of the halL trustees. All the trustees were present on December IS, the object of which was to make the trustees an elective body. After the meeting he closed the hall, Mr. Buchan an being with him. He locked the front door and kept the keys. He did not notice anything wrong when they left the hall. He went to the hotel, and stayed there until about 10.30 p.m. leaving alone. He went by the norther ly route, aud when about 30 or 40

chains from the hall he turned west through Rockwell siding. He got home about 10.40 p.m. He heard of the fire the following afternoon from Mr. Vian. He knew there was a tin containing kerosene in the small shed, but did not know how much was in it. There had been no jealousy that he knew of with regard to the hall. Witness had the tickets printed for the art union. Theiv were 3,000 tickets issued, and he could remember to whom he distributed them, though he kept no record. When they found the art union was illegal they advertised that the money would be refunded on application. He could not account for the fire. Travellers had got. into the hall by forcing the back door, the fastening of which was defective. By Mr. Morrisby: He had contributed to the old hall and would feel called upon to contribute to a new hall if it was decided .to rebuild. His land ran close to the hall, and he -bad 2,000 sheep ia- the paddock. There would be danger of the fire spreading to his paddock. The locks on the door were the ordinary kind.' When he left the hotel he let the horse go as fast as he could, wishing to catch up Harry Webb, nrii rt Vm *1 /n\-n/i S\*i in « OnlL'Tr 'H A 'f*l ll A«l

to overtake him. The burning of the hall made no difference to the art union or the ticket holders. He had his tickets. Before leaving the hall he knew the meeting had been irregular, as a man was nominated and his mime was not put on the ballpt paper. They had since been advised by the depart ment that the el;-ction was informal. By the R.M.: If the bolt was not shot when the lock was picked up. it was possible it had been pushed back. He saw the kerosene tin after the fire. It was on its side and was about empty The trustees, as a rule, left the care taking of the hall to the secretary. The back door fastening had been defective about two years. It would have cost about 5/- to put it in repair. That could easily', have been doite. Constable Doogue said he visited tl*c scene of the fire on December 22, with the Insurance Company Adjuster. The hall had been completely destroyed. They picked up the locks of the front and back door. Only the bolt of the lja.ck door had becu shot, but not the Bolt of the front door lock. In the small shed the kerosene tin was lyiug on its side. It was empty, but there was no sign of auy oil on the floor. There was a lock on the door, but no catch, and the door seemed to have been ' fastened with a piece of cord. There was no sign of burning on the floor near the kerosene tin. The hall was about a quarter of a mile from the siding. He could not get any informa tion' as to whether there had been any strangers in the neighbourhood. By Mr. Morrisby: Both the locks, were burnt out, no particle of wood aflhering to them. He could not say that the lock had received a violent blow.

He thought the curl in the lock.fiad been 'caused by the intense heat. The fire apparently started in the main hall. If a person used the kerosene he might have thrown the tin back into the an nexe, but he could not say what had happened. Constable Triatt, Northampton, said the distance from the Plough and Har rows to Ahern's plaee by the way he travelled was about four miles, and a' bad track. From where Ahern turned off the road to go to the siding to the hall was about 350 yards. He could not hear of any strangers being in the district. Ho could not say how the tin was blackened. The floor was not scorched. The taking of the cvidenee occupied practically the whole of the day, and the Coroner (Mr. Gee, B.M.). delivered his verdict this morning.' He found there was not sufficient evidence on which to determine the cause of the origin of the fire, and added as a rider, a recommendation for the appointment or election of a new body of trustees, who would take more care of the property entrusted to them.

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