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Grass skirt fire prank proves fatal

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- A New Zealand man who set fire to his colleague's fancy dress costume and killed him has been jailed for two years.

Matthew Schofield, an investment banker with finance house Merrill Lynch, was found guilty of manslaughter after setting fire to the grass skirt costume at an office Christmas party, the banker's lawyer said Tuesday. Asia
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Schofield admitted to reaching under a toilet cubicle door and setting fire to Gareth MacFadyen's synthetic grass skirt a company Hawaiian theme Christmas Party in December, Radio New Zealand reported.

MacFadyen suffered burns to 95 percent of his body and died three days later.

Schofield also pleaded guilty before Judge Rodney Hansen to injuring 29-year-old Angela Offwood who was badly burned in the incident.

Offwood has since undergone six plastic surgery operations and has needed 800 staples to secure skin grafts.

MacFadyen and Offwood were in a stall in the men's toilets when Schofield set fire to MacFadyen's skirt by reaching under the stall door with a cigarette lighter.

An earlier hearing was told Schofield was in "celebratory mood" after setting fire to his colleague. "I've lit his skirt," he announced to partygoers.

Moments later, MacFadyen staggered from the men's toilets charred and blackened, his head described as "glowing like a cigarette," the court was told.

He died three days later after suffering burns to 90 percent of his body.

Earlier in the evening, Schofield had set fire to MacFadyen's grass skirt which briefly caught fire before being patted out, the court was told.

Hansen said that MacFadyen's family was still deeply troubled by the tragedy.

"The trauma of his death was magnified by the way in which he died," Hansen said. "Knowing how he suffered still haunts them."

Justice Hansen said he accepted 27-year-old Schofield was truly remorseful and any sentence would not compare with the punishment of knowing he had killed his friend, the radio reported.

But he said a term of imprisonment was required to reflect the sanctity of human life.

Schofield was also been sentenced to nine months, to be served concurrently, for injuring another Merrill Lynch employee in the incident, and ordered to pay NZ$37,000 to the two victims' families.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Merrill Lynch

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