New Zealand police file 5 murder charges against man accused of setting fire to hostel

New Zealand police on Thursday filed five murder charges against a man they say set off a deadly fire at a Wellington hostel two weeks ago.

Earlier, the police charged the 48-year-old man with setting fire to the sofa and the hostel itself. He has remained in prison since his arrest two days after the fire.

The four-story Loafers Lodge hostel was home to more than 100 people when flames engulfed the building shortly after midnight on May 16.

Some people ran in their pajamas, while others were rescued from rooftops or jumped out of windows by firefighters.

As a result of the fire, parts of the roof and floor collapsed onto a pile of rubble.

Emergency services officials said the building did not have fire sprinklers, which are not required in many older buildings. New Zealand lawmakers say they are reviewing building codes to see if they need to be changed.

Among the five men who died in the fire was Mike Warlich, 67, a street performer widely known in Wellington as Mike the Juggler.

The judge granted the defendant a temporary name closure, which is common practice in the New Zealand legal system. He has yet to file a plea for arson, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. If his guilt in the murder is proven, the man faces life imprisonment.

During his first court appearance on May 19, the man tried to fire his lawyer, who later confirmed that the man remained his client.

Inspector Dion Bennett said police completed their inspection of the burnt-out dorm on Thursday and turned the scene over to fire authorities.

“Police would like to thank the people of Wellington affected by this tragedy and we hope today’s increased charges will be welcomed,” Bennett said in a statement.

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