Father pleased charges laid against Topec

KIRSTY MCMURRAY
Last updated 05:00 08/02/2013

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The father of a teenager who perished in the Paritutu tragedy last year is pleased Topec will be held to account in court.

Yesterday the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (Mobie) filed four charges against Topec.

Bruce Gedye, said he was glad charges had been laid, "but at this stage we don't fully understand what that means".

Spotswood College students Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye and Felipe Melo, both 17, and their Topec instructor Bryce Jourdain, 42, were fatally swept out to sea on August 8 while climbing around Paritutu rock.

Mr Gedye has been the most outspoken member of the three families throughout the months following the deaths.

In September he wrote to the Taranaki Daily News and said there were many easily avoidable mistakes made leading to tragedy.

"In my opinion Topec, you are not a victim, you are the creator of this tragedy. Thank you for destroying our lives," he said in the letter.

The ministry's health and safety group had completed its investigation and laid the charges against the centre in the New Plymouth District Court under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.

Topec board of trustees chairman David Grigg said the organisation had been informed of the outcome of the investigation in advance but had not received the ministry's report or full disclosure about the charges.

"We understand there is vast documentation to go through and the matter is now in the hands of our lawyer, Kylie Pascoe," he said.

As the matter was before the court it would be inappropriate to comment any further, he said.

"Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and friends of Felipe, Stephen and Bryce and all those that are affected by these events."

The four charges relate to Topec neglecting to do everything it could to keep its employees and customers safe.

It has been charged with:

Failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employee, Bryce Jourdain.

Failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that a volunteer instructor from Germany was not exposed to hazards of high and powerful seas in his place of work.

Failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that no action or inaction of its employee while at work harmed any other person.

As a person who controlled a place of work, failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that no hazard that arose in the place of work - high and powerful seas - harmed people who were in the place with its express consent and who had paid to undertake an activity there.

The charges, which have been laid under sections 6, 15 and 16 of the act, carry a maximum penalty $250,000 each while the largest fine applicable for the fourth charge, under section 50, is $500,000.

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Two of the charges are the same as those faced by the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre (OPC) in 2009 after six Elim Christian School students and a teacher drowned while canyoning in the Mangatepopo Gorge.

OPC's mistakes cost it $480,000 in fines and reparation to families of the victims and survivors of the tragedy.

Yesterday Bryce Jourdain's widow, Robyn, said the announcement of charges being laid against Topec was part of the process of finding out what went wrong on Paritutu on August 8.

"Six months after losing our Bryce in what was an unbelievable tragedy, our lives and the lives of so many have drastically changed forever," she said.

The Jourdain family continues to "take life one day at a time and look after each other", she said. "Six months may have already passed, but our Bryce remains our rock."

She said she and children Issac, 12, and Grace, 10, are thankful to the New Plymouth community for their support. "You'll never know how much this has meant to our family."

Spotswood College principal Mark Bowden said it was a relief the school was not facing charges, but the community continued to grieve.

"As you will appreciate the whole tragedy is extremely raw and today just reignites that rawness.

"We've got other things we need to be doing and encouraging our students with at the beginning of the year, but we've also got to face this so it's a challenging time."

He said the school was grateful for the enormous amount of support that continued to be given by the community.

"Our thoughts and energies continue to be with the friends and families of those lost last year."

Taranaki Daily News attempts to contact the Melo family in Brazil yesterday were unsuccessful.

- Taranaki Daily News

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