Whakaari/White Island defendants all enter not guilty pleas

The 2019 Whakaari/White Island eruption left 22 dead and 13 organisations and individuals facing a range of charges.
Lillani Hopkins/Supplied
The 2019 Whakaari/White Island eruption left 22 dead and 13 organisations and individuals facing a range of charges.

Twelve of the individuals and organisations facing charges in the wake of the Whakaari/White Island eruption have entered pleas of not guilty.

The pleas were revealed in a minute from Judge Evangelos​​ Thomas on Thursday.

National Emergency Management Agency had been the only organisation that had entered a plea, of not guilty, on May 27 this year.

“All remaining defendants have now filed pleas by notice,” Thomas said.

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“All have pleaded not guilty to the charges they face.”

The December 9, 2019 eruption took place while 47 people were on the island, leaving 22 dead and the remaining survivors with severe or critical injuries.

The event also led to WorkSafe filing numerous charges against a total of 13 individuals and organisations.

At an earlier hearing in June this year Richard Raymond QC, lawyer for White Island Tours, told Judge Thomas it would “simply not be conducive to justice” for his client to make a plea as they were still awaiting disclosure of documents.

He said the defence had received 3000 documents so far, “only half the story”.

He said a team of six to eight lawyers had taken three months to review the disclosure that had been submitted so far.

Prosecutor Kristy McDonald, pictured outside Whakatāne District Court at the June hearing, said at the time, “pleas should be entered now”.
Tom Lee/Stuff
Prosecutor Kristy McDonald, pictured outside Whakatāne District Court at the June hearing, said at the time, “pleas should be entered now”.

He said the case was “the most extensive and complex investigation undertaken by WorkSafe”.

At that hearing Thomas set a date of August 24 for the remaining pleas to be filed.

Some of the charges date back to April 4, 2016, and most relate to individuals and companies in their capacity as a person conducting a business or undertaking.

Fourteen of the charges have a maximum penalty of $1.5 million in fines.

Details of the charges were spelt out across 19 pages of charging documents.

Whakaari owners Andrew, James and Peter Buttle and Whakaari Management Ltd, the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, the National Emergency Management Agency, White Island Tours, Volcanic Air Safaris, Aerius Ltd, Kahu NZ, Inflite Charters, ID Tours New Zealand and Tauranga Tourism Services were all charged after WorkSafe filed a total of 20 charges.

The Buttles are alleged to have failed with due diligence duties, including failure to acquire and keep updated knowledge of work health and safety matters and failure to gain adequate understanding of the hazards and risks associated with access to Whakaari.

Their company, Whakaari Management Ltd, is also alleged to have failed its duty to workers and tourists, including ensuring “an adequate means of evacuation from Whakaari”.

The Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences is alleged to have failed to ensure the safety of pilots travelling to and remaining on the island.