Auckland Trainer Murder Trial: Duo Accused of Orchestrating Deadly House Fire Cover-Up

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In a tense court setting in Auckland High Court, two men, Sean Andrew Hayde and Gregory David Hart, are standing trial, jointly charged with the murder of a reputed personal trainer, Wiremu Arapo. They are alleged to have concocted a deceptive scenario of a tragic house fire to hide the evidence of the gruesome crime. As part of their ruse, the two also made a spectacle of fighting valiantly through the flames in an attempt to re-enter the engulfed Cockle Bay residence.

27-year-old Arapo, an ex-serviceman turned personal trainer operated his business from the garage of his home on Minerva Terrace. His life was extinguished on October 20, 2020. The duo Hayde and Hart, in addition to the murder charge, stand accused of perverting the course of justice by setting fire to Arapo’s residence. Hayde faces additional charges of assaulting, threatening, and strangling his former girlfriend weeks prior to Arapo’s death. Both parties have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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Crown prosecutor, Ned Fletcher, painted a vivid picture to the jury that would perfectly fit into a suburban East Auckland soap opera. A tale of embittered relationships, personal enmities, and betrayals that snowballed until tensions erupted into a deadly climax on October 20.

Fletcher outlined the dynamics between Arapo, his indolent flatmate Hart, the unpredictable Hayde, and two women which steadily deteriorated until they reached a tipping point with tragic consequences. According to Fletcher, Arapo, once a soldier and now a well-regarded athletic young man, had a promising future ahead.

For Hayde’s defence, it is Hart who stands accused of Arapo’s murder. His lawyer will argue that Hayde’s former partner made up the domestic violence allegations due to her displeasure at his initiation of a new relationship. Hart’s defence accuses Hayde of being the murderer and the prominent figure in the friendship, attempting to scapegoat his friend for the crime.

Arapo and Hayde’s paths first crossed in 2019 when Hayde enrolled for boxing classes taught by Arapo. At the time, Hayde was involved with the woman he’s charged with assaulting. As the first COVID lockdown was lifted in 2020, Arapo, having lost his job at the gym, started a personal training business at his rented residence on Minerva Terrace. He had meanwhile made Hayde’s acquaintance with Hart and offered one end of his house to Hart when his flatmate moved out in June 2020.

However, the newfound camaraderie between Arapo and Hart quickly went downhill. By August, Hart’s delayed payment of bills and lack of hygiene had become a throbbing issue. Simultaneously, Hayde began an affair with a woman introduced to him by Arapo, despite being in a relationship with another woman. On August 29, Hayde admitted to his partner he was cheating, which later escalated into an assault, including threats to set their home on fire, according to the prosecutor.

With Hayde getting arrested, bailed, and Arapo becoming disillusioned with this relationship, tensions soared. As Fletcher narrates, Hayde provoked Hart to vacate the residence so he could attack Arapo. On October 19, Hart, facing financial issues, further aggravated Arapo by splurging on gin and cigarettes, which led to an altercation resulting in Arapo nursing a hangover on October 20.

On that afternoon, Hayde’s vehicle was spotted heading to Minerva Terrace. Counterfeit cries of struggling with the fire at Arapo’s residence were heard along with a fight, the falling an individual against french doors. Subsequently, observations regarding the unlikely position of Arapo’s body at the scene suggested foul play. The post-mortem held additional evidence of a gruesome death polluted by multiple instances of blunt force trauma rather than the fire itself.

Fletcher stated that both accused, post their visit to Middlemore Hospital, gave their statements to the police. Hart allegedly confessed to Hayde ‘losing it,’ while principals from Hayde’s defence accused Hart of the crime and questioned the intent of the fire itself.

Jonathan Hudson, on Hart’s defence, pointed the finger back at Hayde as the sole mastermind behind the horrendous crime. Hayde, they allege, was the potent figure in an uncomfortable friendship centered around cannabis and cheap alcohol.

The trial, likely to span five weeks, is set to hear around 60 witnesses before the defence presents their case.