Witness thought owner was in burning historic Allansford homestead, arson hearing told

A NEIGHBOUR who was first on the scene of a $1 million fire at an historic Allansford homestead yesterday said he feared the owner of the property was inside the burning house.

Ray Chislett said when he arrived at Hopkins Hill on the evening of Saturday, May 26, 2012, the gate was unlocked, a four-wheel-drive vehicle was in the garage and he presumed the owner Bob Conn was at home.

Yesterday, Mr Conn, 68, his former partner Roslyn Beevers, 53, both previously of Grauers Road, Allansford, and another man Rob Ivan Bucay, 53, of Melbourne, appeared in the Warrnambool Magistrates Court for a committal hearing.

They have all been charged with arson, conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to defraud.

Mr Conn and Ms Beevers are also charged with attempting to obtain property by deception and attempting to obtain financial advantage by deception.

The committal hearing was set down for six days but is now expected to end tomorrow after the witness list was trimmed from more than 20 people to 10.

Mr Chislett said he checked a property which had a joint driveway with Hopkins Hill twice a day and at the time of the fire cows were calving.

He said when Mr Conn was not at the property the gate was always locked.

Mr Chislett said that on the night of the fire he found the gate unlocked, Mr Conn’s four-wheel-drive was in the garage and he assumed Mr Conn was at home.

“I called out. I was emotional, I thought he was in the house. I was concerned he was actually in the fire,” Mr Chislett said. 

“I thought later that night, why was the gate unlocked? I was the first person on the scene.”

The farmer said there was nothing left of the four-wheel-drive or the garage when he arrived at the fire.

“The garage was burning very fiercely,” Mr Chislett said, adding the house was also well alight.

Mr Chislett said it was only on the Monday morning after the fire he saw a cut chain and lock lying in the grass beside the gate but it wasn’t the original chain or padlock.

“It was not the usual chain. It was a very fine link chain and small padlock,” he said.

The committal hearing before Magistrate Ian von Einem will continue this morning.

The fire at the Hopkins Hill homestead in Allansford. Picture: Daniel McKean

The fire at the Hopkins Hill homestead in Allansford. Picture: Daniel McKean