BREAKING NEWS: Topec has been ordered to pay $269,500 in reparation after an instructor and two students were swept to their deaths in high seas during a traverse of Paritutu rock last year.
In the New Plymouth District Court this morning Judge Gerard Lynch sentenced the Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits and Education Centre on health and safety breaches they admitted in February.
Judge Lynch did not fine the trust because it would bring to an end the fine work it did on behalf of young people, he said.
Last August, Topec instructor Bryce Jourdain, 42, Spotswood College student Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye, 17, and Felipe Melo, 17, a Brazilian exchange student, died in massive seas while with a group attempting a rock traverse of Paritutu rock.
Other students in the group were left clinging to the rock before being winched to safety by the Taranaki Community Rescue Helicopter crew.
Days later Felipe's body was found near the New Plymouth Power Station outlet but despite an extended search neither of the other two bodies were found.
This morning victim impact statements were read out to the full courtroom.
Bruce Gedye told how the loss of his son had split his family apart.
His voice broke as he described how they had been left with anger and a sense of injustice.
He was now on an emotional rollercoaster, fighting anger, rage and frustration.
He felt responsible for his son's death because he signed the permission form without asking questions as to how safe the traverse was.
In not finding his son's body made him realise there may never be an end for them.
When they were declined permission for a restorative justice meeting "the system let us down again".
Topec needed to be held accountable, Mr Gedye said.
Lawyer Kylie Pascoe said Topec unreservedly accepted their blame for the loss of life.
Topec wished to make a public apology for the pain and sorrow caused and the lives impacted on.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment brought three charges against Topec under the Health and Safety in Employment Act.
The charges include:
■ Failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employee Bryce Jourdain;
■ Failing to ensure a German volunteer instructor was not exposed to the hazards caused by high and powerful seas; and
■ Failing to ensure no action or inaction of its employee harmed any other person.
A fourth charge - that no hazard, in this case high and powerful seas, harmed participants who paid to undertake the activity - was dropped.
They had failed to check swell conditions and continued with the traverse of Paritutu rock outside their own safe operating times, the court heard this morning.
In failing to check the weather, prosecutor Andrew Gane said the tragedy which caused the death of two students and an instructor was very similar to that which caused six deaths in the Sir Edmund Hillary gorge disaster.
In that case the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre was ordered to pay $480,000 in both fines and reparation to the families of the victims and the survivors under the same legislation.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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