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Charges laid over Mangatepopo Gorge deaths

14 October 2008
Charges laid over Mangatepopo Gorge deaths

The Department of Labour is prosecuting the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre of New Zealand (OPC) over an accident in the Mangatepopo Gorge on April 15, 2008, that claimed the lives of six students and one teacher from Elim Christian College.

"The Department considers that there were steps OPC should have taken to better ensure the safety of the group on the day," said Mike Munnelly, the Department of Labour's Central Region Manager of Health and Safety Services.

Four charges were laid today under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. Two relate to OPC's obligations to protect the instructor who went into the gorge with the students and teacher. The third relates to OPC's obligation to ensure that its employee's actions didn't expose others to avoidable risks. The fourth charge relates to OPC's obligation to appropriately ensure the safety of other people in the place of work.

The charges were laid in the Wellington District Court, but will be filed in the Taumarunui District Court the closest court to OPC's registered head office and the scene of the incident. The first hearing is likely to be in four to six weeks.

No other charges will be laid by the Department.

Mr Munnelly said the Department wanted to acknowledge the tremendous dignity and strength shown by the victims' families and friends, and by the survivors, despite the trauma they had suffered. "Prosecution action is not commenced lightly by the Department, and we appreciate that this is a difficult time for everyone involved in this tragic event."

"But seven people lost their lives that day and several others were put in serious danger. So it is important that someone is required to answer what the Department says were failures to better ensure the safety of the group. Our hope is that this prosecution may help prevent others from suffering a similar loss in future."

As this matter is now before the court no interviews or further comment will be provided.


Editor's Note
The health and safety services, formerly referred to as Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) should now be referred to as the Department of Labour.
Details of the charges - OPC has been charged under the Health and Safety in Employment Act in relation to:
Section 6 and 50(1)(a) - As an employer, it failed to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employee, Jodie Sullivan, while at work;
Section 10(2)(c) and 50(1)(a) - As an employer, it failed to monitor Jodie Sullivan's exposure to the hazard of a flash flood;
Section 15 and 50(1)(a) - As an employer, it failed to take all practicable steps to ensure that no action or inaction of Jodie Sullivan harmed any other person;
Section 16(2)(b)(i) - As a person who controlled a place of work, it failed to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of persons in the place.
The last two charges have been laid in the alternative, which means the Department is seeking conviction on one, but not both, of these charges.

Why the Department of Labour is involved
The Department investigates when people are killed or seriously injured in a workplace, and in this case the Mangatepopo Gorge is considered a workplace.

These investigations try to identify what led to the accident, whether anything could have been done under the circumstances to prevent it, and what steps could be taken to prevent a similar accident in future.

Potential penalties
If OPC pleads guilty to, or is found guilty of, the charges above, the Court may sentence it to a fine of up to $250,000 per offence, reparation to victims, or both.


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