25 Aug 2015

Manslaughter trial begins over falling tree death

4:52 pm on 25 August 2015

A forestry contractor charged with manslaughter has been accused of not bothering to check where his co-worker was when a tree he felled crushed the man to death.

Paul Robert Burr

Paul Robert Burr Photo: RNZ / Max Towle

Lincoln Kidd, 20, was crushed by a tree in a forestry block near Levin in 2013.

Paul Robert Burr is on trial at the High Court in Palmerston North.

Mr Burr, 47, a contractor who also ran the company, felled the tree while operating a mechanical harvester. He has denied responsibility for the death.

Crown Solicitor Ben Vanderkolk  at the trial of Paul Robert Burr.

Crown Solicitor Ben Vanderkolk Photo: RNZ / Max Towle

In his opening statement, the Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk, told the court Mr Burr had an indifference to safety and did not give his staff the proper training.

"There was nothing in the environment that caused Lincoln Kidd's death... Mr Burr is the one who failed," he said.

He said Mr Kidd was only 7 metres from the harvester when the tree came down.

Mr Vanderkolk told the court another member of Mr Burr's staff had crashed into power lines days earlier.

He said the incident demonstrated a failure to assess harm and risk, and a lack of conscious safety planning.

But Mr Burr's lawyer, Jonathan Temm, said WorkSafe was making an example of his client.

He said the manslaughter charge laid by WorkSafe was unusual and told the court WorkSafe was looking to lay down a marker as a regulator in the forestry industry.

"WorkSafe New Zealand - the new state regulator for health and safety, particularly in forestry - is looking to lay down a marker to say 'we're the new regulator here' after Pike River, after the Department of Labour, and the Royal Commission," he said.

"They think Paul Burr is that marker."

Mr Temm said Mr Burr was not to blame for his co-worker being so close behind him, and the tree fell in an unintended direction.

There were 10 deaths and 169 serious injuries in forestry in 2013.

The trial is set down for three weeks.

Lead defence counsel Jonathan Temm  at the trial of Paul Robert Burr

Jonathan Temm Photo: RNZ / Max Towle