National | Arrest

Five bodies found, with four removed from scene; man arrested given name suppression

Police are still unable to give a definite death toll from the Loafers Lodge fire but have confirmed that five bodies have been found, with four removed from the scene.

Acting Wellington District Commander Inspector Dion Bennett has provided an update on the investigation into the fatal fire.

The death toll from the blaze in the Wellington suburb of Newtown on Monday night stands at six but it may be days before a final death toll is known.

Bennett said 99 people have now been accounted for and the number of victims would be "fewer than 10".

"I can only confirm that five are dead," he said in response to questions.

He said several families had been in touch with police over the past few days over possible victims. Police were going as fast as they could to recover victims without compromising their inquiries, he said.

There may have been visitors or guests staying over, so police had to ensure their inquiries were detailed.

It was possible some residents might not want to make contact with police.

"That's one of the difficulties of the reconciliation process," Bennett said.

Bennett said the scene examination would continue over the weekend. "It will be methodical, it will be slow."

A lot of rubble was having to be handled during the process and it was harder working at an interior scene rather than outside.

He knew residents wanted to get back into the hostel to retrieve belongings but there was still no change to the police position that it was too unsafe for them to enter, he said.

The building no longer had a roof in some parts - it had crumbled - and the third-storey floor was also unstable. USAR had been helping with propping it up.

"They are doing a magnificent job."

Bennett thanked all those working on the recovery of bodies.

He also paid tribute to the inquiry team: "It's not by coincidence that we now have a man charged with arson."

The scene examination will be methodical and while it was raining and cold, staff would ensure that all pieces of evidence would be collected, Bennett said.

On Thursday, a man was arrested and charged with two counts of arson - one in relation to a couch fire on the third floor of the hostel on Monday night and the second in relation to the blaze set on the building itself.

He appeared in Wellington District Court today, where the judge ordered he be given interim name suppression.

The man has been remanded in custody.

Coronial process underway

The disaster victim identification process is now underway for the victims of the Loafers Lodge fire Chief Coroner Judge Anna Tutton said in a statement.

The first bodies were recovered from the scene yesterday and transported to the Wellington Hospital mortuary, with the remaining victims expected to be recovered over the coming days.

"We can now start working with police and other specialists to determine the identification of those who have died," Tutton said.

"This identification process can be lengthy and complex, requiring a careful and methodical approach to ensure there are no mistakes."

Tutton said she wanted to reiterate to the families and friends of those who had died as a result of the fire that the victims would be treated with dignity and respect.

"We will endeavour to return them to you as quickly as we can."