Chris and Ali Robinson arrived in New Zealand with their two children in 2005. Almost immediately they purchased Killara, a 495 sq m, slightly incomplete, luxury property near Kerikeri in Northland, paying the asking price of NZ$1.6M. They had been talking to Ian Knox of Ray White, Kerikeri for some weeks prior to their arrival about the house.
They brought a massive collection of european furniture, antiques and artwork with them, valued at over $500,000. A huge amount of work was done, completing Killara with a large bedroom suite on the ground floor, adding a stunning swimming pool area, extensive landscaping and equestrian facilities including barn stabling and an olympic size menage.
All the work was approved by the Council who had supplied Chris with the approved plans for the property submitted by the vendors, Rogan and Heather Moody in 2003-5.
They had also subdivided the ex-orchard plot of 11.8 Ha. Creating two elevated, 2Ha, sections with fantastic views over the Waipapa valley, they were on the market waiting for the boundaries to be defined to the buyers requirements before getting the final title.
In 2011, a builder from Whangarei was proceeding with a purchase of both sections for his own use with an agreed price of $740,000, Chris had agreed to reduce the price from $800,000 to cover the cost of installing the driveway to the sections. The final survey and pegging the boundaries was due to be completed on 20 September when the Sale and Purchase agreement would also be exchanged.
Chris and Ali were very financially secure with a significant US pension fund, administered by Price Waterhouse, that was returning over a 10% return, tax paid in the US. Like millions of others around the World they suffered a shock with the 2008 Global Financial Crisis decimated the fund. They would eventually receive around $100,000 as a final payout, less than 2.5% of the fund.
They put the property on the market at Ian Knox’s recommended asking price but in 2009/10 the financial crisis was still preventing many sales taking place so they also invested the balance of the fund in converting Killara to a Qualmark 5 Star Lodge to give them more income, this was finally completed in 2010.
Also in 2010, Ian Knox introduced a potential buyer for the property, he had a substantial deposit and wanted to proceed quickly, finally, a price for the whole of $2.995M was agreed. Ian Knox prepared Sale and Purchase agreements and appointed Richard Ayton of Law North Solicitors to look after the transaction. The agreement was only provisional on finance availability, unfortunately even with his level of deposit the loan was refused and the sale fell through but it did place a real value the property.
The Lodge had been well received by the booking agencies, over $75,000 of bookings were in place for the Summer of 2010/11 when it was discovered that the water supply to the property was contaminated by Arsenic and possibly Dioxin. All the bookings were cancelled and deposits returned.
It took some time to discover an economically viable solution to remediating the contamination but finally two solutions were going to be installed, a bore to change the source of the water and a tank being installed with new plumbing to supply, tanker supplied, potable water to all the cold water taps in the property. Both solutions were contracted to be in place for the Summer season of 2011/12 to allow the Lodge to be reopened.
At the time of the fire, Chris and Ali has assets, house, contents, cars valued at more than $3.5M and debts of $750,000 which they expected to clear almost totally from the sale of the sections. Their lodge business was projected to earn profits in excess of $100,000 per annum.
They had a minor disagreement with the ASB bank, they wanted to stop any payments on the account to divert all available cash to speed up the remediation work but the bank disagreed and finally issued an IPL notice for $8,000. They were in communication with the bank but had until 23 September’11 to reach an agreement.
This was not the DIRE financial position portrayed by IAG endlessly to the Courts where the Robinson’s never had an option to reply or present evidence on the topic. This incomplete and false evidence created bias in the minds of the presiding judges to the detriment of the Robinson’s.
At around 9:30 am on the day of the fire, over 14 hours prior to the fire, they left the property to go to Hamilton, some 400Km away. Their son, Alex, was at Waikato University and daughter, Eleanor, was considering joining him there. Their trip was seriously delayed in Auckland due to the traffic caused by the opening ceremony and first match of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
They had stopped in several locations on the way and the receipts proved their location throughout the day, the Police checked video footage to check if Chris had returned to the property giving him the opportunity to cause the fire but agreed that this was logistically impossible in the prevailing traffic conditions. They also checked for possible accomplices but that check also failed to produce any result.
DS Sam Bindon contacted their mobile at around 9am on the 10 September, he told them about the fire and how serious it was, requesting they returned as quickly as possible.