Govt 'heads-up' of fatal crash cover-up

03:21, Jan 30 2013
FORMER STUDENT: Caitlin Dickson, 19, was in Kenya with a group from Bethlehem College when she was killed.
FORMER STUDENT: Caitlin Dickson, 19, was in Kenya with a group from Bethlehem College when she was killed in a minivan crash.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully denies the Government was part of a cover up in the Kenya bus crash, after confirming he was aware ''more information'' would be made public about the accident at the start of the week.

An independent inquiry has been commissioned into revelations that an 18-year-old Bethlehem College student was behind the wheel of a bus which crashed in Kenya, killing four of their group, including three New Zealanders; doctor Brian Johnston, his wife Grace, and 19-year-old Caitlin Dickson.

Until yesterday, it was reported the driver was Kenyan man Christopher Mmata - one of those killed, and that the actual driver, David Fellows had been told to maintain that story.

'TWO WONDERFUL PEOPLE': Dr Brian and Grace Johnston, two of three people from a Bethlehem College group killed in a minivan crash in Kenya.
'TWO WONDERFUL PEOPLE': Dr Brian and Grace Johnston were killed in the crash.

Today McCully told reporters at Parliament that a member of the public had given him a ''heads up'' that the school had information ''that the government was not aware of'' and was making arrangements for it to be made public.

He had passed the tip to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, warning that fresh information may come to light. But he denied he was part of a cover-up.

''The New Zealand government was not part of any such arrangement. We've simply said there's a good process that can be followed here. We need to be sensitive to all of the parties involved,'' McCully said.


''I think the school's done a very good job to deal with the different interests that they have to manage here and to show respect for all the parties, and I don't think they need the government pronouncing judgement on that as the go about a difficult task.''

He was not aware of contact from Kenyan authorities wanting to speak to Fellows about the crash. While New Zealand had no extradition treaty with Kenya, as a fellow Commonwealth country there were established procedures should they seek contact.

Prime Minister John Key said the only details he was aware of were from the media.

"My understanding is that the police are notifying the authorities in Kenya, the whole thing looks tragic to me and obviously this is going to be a big burden for that you man to carry for the rest of his life, but the details on what went on and why, I don't have any of those," he said.

"At the end of the day we'll work with them [the Kenyans], as I say, police are in contact with them, so I don't think anyone's trying to hide anything at this point anyway."

Board of Trustees chairman Greg Hollister-Jones said the board had accepted his own recommendation to hold an independent inquiry into the delay of the correct information coming out.

"It won't look into the event of what caused the bus crash, but it will focus on what happened afterwards and way the information emerged."

Hollister-Jones said a private investigator had been hired to carry out the inquiry.

"He needs to clear a few things in his diary but it does need to happen soon, obviously while memories are still relatively fresh and of course before some of the students move on to university."

He said he "could only surmise" that the reason Fellows was not identified as the driver straight away was to get him out of the country and back to New Zealand.

It was understood that shortly before the crash there was a driver swap between Mmata and Fellows.

Principal Eoin Crosbie said immediately after the crash Fellows accepted responsibility, but was quickly told to keep quiet by a group liaison in Kenya until Fellows' family could be informed.

Bethlehem College's liaison in Kenya Calvine Ominde had apparently presumed Mmata was driving, due to where he was found at the scene. 

But it also emerged Ominde was the one who told Fellows to keep it quiet that he was in fact driving. 

The information appeared to have remained suppressed by the group until everyone had returned.

Hollister-Jones said the board was providing all the support they could to fellows and had helped him gain legal advice.

"He's [Fellows] a young guy that's found himself in an incredibly difficult position.

"I've watched him while he's apologised, and when he's visited one of the families who lost a loved-one and plans are being made to visit the other two. I was impressed."

Hollister-Jones said the inquiry was the right thing to do.

"The inquiry is important for both those who are bereaved and those who were involved."

The College was "very sad" Mmata was attributed as the driver.