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Armidale nightclub fire: owner seeks crowdfunding to launch court action

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The owner of a Armidale nightclub that burned down in suspicious circumstances says she is instigating court action in relation to a site proposed as the new headquarters of a federal agriculture agency.

Kate Richards has launched a crowdfunding page that makes claims about the 2016 fire at the Armidale Club, which a coroner ruled had probably been started by an unknown person who poured petrol through the premises.

“I now believe and so do many others that; this criminal act, committed against me, was to make way for a lucrative government development, the relocation of the Animal Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority,” Richards posted.

In March last year the federal government announced the site of the former club would be part of a broader redevelopment to house the APVMA.

In April Senate estimates heard evidence that a reactivated police investigation into the fire was seeking information from the federal agriculture department as to its tender process.

The local MP, Barnaby Joyce, was deputy prime minister when the relocation of the agency was promised during the 2016 election campaign. Joyce has described suggestions the fire was connected to the relocation as “one of the most scurrilous conspiracy theories that I have ever heard, and I have heard quite a few”.

On her fundraising page, Richards said while the police investigation continued, she had decided to instigate supreme court action against her landlord and “other parties”. She said the action was partly to “get this matter fully opened up [and] documents released.

“I am just one person, I have a very big will to see justice prevail.”

The Armidale site has been subject of a dispute between Richards and her former landlord. She claims to still have a lease and a liquor licence over the property. “I have repeatedly informed the government of all these concerns, and several more to no avail,” she said.

The property was valued at $444,000 in 2017 but subsequently sold to Stirloch Development for $1.3m. Stirloch, the successful tenderer to build the new APVMA building, signed a lease with the agency worth about $16.4m over 15 years.

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