Moving tribute to 'little chief' by grieving dad Todd Barlow

Todd Barlow places a back pack and fishing rod in the grave of his son Glenn Te Miha-Barlow, the Motueka five year old died in a tragic accident in Motueka.
Todd Barlow places a back pack and fishing rod in the grave of his son Glenn Te Miha-Barlow, the Motueka five year old died in a tragic accident in Motueka.

In a quiet courtroom, a father's grief and love for his 5-year-old "little chief" was laid out.

Todd Barlow could not read his victim impact statement about the death of his son, Glenn Te Miha-Barlow, killed by a log that rolled from an unsecured pile at Motueka High School in February.

Instead his mother, Rae Stamp, read her son's moving, dignified tribute to Glenn, his only son, a boy who was bright, thoughtful and affectionate, who shouted "I'm Dan Carter" in the backyard.

That a Nelson District Court judge ordered the school board to pay Glenn's family $60,000 for the safety failings that led to his death seemed almost irrelevant yesterday as the statements from Mr Barlow and his mother were read.

"I have been a solo parent to my beautiful children for four years, since my son was 18 months old, when his mother was taken ill," Mr Barlow's statement said.

"I have been his father, mother and just everything. He was my little mate, our little chief, who had a huge impact on our family life because after three girls he made our family complete. We adored each other and would tell each other every day that we loved each other. I am never going to hear those beautiful words from him again. I miss him so much."

Glenn was named after his brother who had died.

"He had so much love to give and such a promising life ahead of him. Now I will never have the joy of seeing him blossom into what, I am sure, would have been an amazing young man."

Mr Barlow thanked those who had rallied around his family and supported them, and acknowledged that Motueka High School must also have suffered deeply.

"It is not in my heart to condemn or seek revenge. I only want to celebrate the short life of my son."

Mrs Stamp said she had lost her youngest son, Todd's brother, 10 years ago and knew what Mr Barlow was going through. She was grieving doubly as she had lost her "beautiful, dear little grandson" and it was heart-rending to witness her son's anguish.

She worried about the long-term impact the death would have on her son and granddaughters and feared it might stop them from reaching their potential.

Outside the court, board of trustees chairman Ian Palmer said yesterday he could not express his respect for the way Mr Barlow, and his family, had managed the relationship with the school. "It's incredible, it really is incredible.

"He has our utmost respect.

"His daughter is starting with us next year. That's going to be really hard for the family and we will work with them on that."

Judge Tony Zohrab also made special mention of "how dignified" the family's victim impact statements were. He said it must have been terribly difficult for Mrs Stamp to read them.

The board admitted a charge under the Health and Safety Act of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that the actions of any employee did not harm another person.

Glenn, 5, was crushed by a 519kg log that fell from a pile of logs stacked in the school's grounds on February 9.

The summary of facts said Motueka High had identified five poplar trees on its grounds were unsafe and had to be cut down.

The school's groundsman and executive officer agreed that the logs could be sold as firewood to recoup some of the cost of felling the trees.

A contractor felled the trees and the next day the groundsman cleaned up the site and stacked the logs into two stacks with his forklift he brought from home.

He pushed the logs together with his forklift to tighten them and was satisfied the stacks, which contained large and small logs mixed together, were safe.

At 5.45pm that day a group of children, including two of Glenn's sisters, started playing on the logs.

A girl jumped onto a log which rolled down the stack striking and crushing Glenn who was at the bottom of the stack.

The lawyer for the Ministry of Building Innovation and Employment, Andrew Gane, said the school should have taken steps to ensure the stacking of the logs did not harm Glenn or anyone else.

Among the steps were ensuring the groundsman was trained to stack the logs and engaging a contractor to manage the entire operation.

Placing the logs in a single layer would have eliminated the hazard of a log rolling from the stack.

Board members and the school's principal Scott Haines were in court yesterday.

Board chairman Mr Palmer addressed Glenn's family and said it was with a great "sense of sadness" the board was in court.

The board fully accepted its health and safety systems, which it thought were robust, had been inadequate.

He assured the family the school would never forget Glenn.

Outside court Mr Palmer said other schools were looking for what could they learn from Motueka High.

"That's our driver - to help other schools to understand how we got it so wrong and how they might potentially be running the same risk."

It was important to share its lessons to ensure the "horrific" incident never happened anywhere else, he said.

He said the school was developing a case model from the incident and would work out the best way to share this over the next six months.

Mr Palmer said the cost of cutting down the trees had placed some financial pressure on the school and it had looked at how it could recover costs by selling the logs for firewood. However, that was not the issue.

He said the school had run an external investigation and the school's executive officer had resigned as she found the incident too hard.

Insurance would cover the $60,000 reparation, he said.

Judge Tony Zohrab said the victim impact statements were very moving and the whole family must be suffering greatly.

He said the cost of cutting down the trees was half the school's annual maintenance budget and was unexpected.

Everyone who had worked to cut down the trees had been working in the school's best interests to minimise costs. They had the best intentions of the school at heart, but sometimes best intentions were not good enough.

The groundsman did not recognise the dangers of stacking the logs as he had, but the fact that children might play on the logs should have been dealt with by the school.

He said it was clear the impact on Glenn's family had been significant and would continue for the rest of their lives.