17 Apr 2017

Napier school death: 'ridiculous' sum spent over defence

8:39 am on 17 April 2017

A Hawke's Bay father says a "ridiculous" amount has been spent defending a Napier school over the death of his son two years ago.

Aryan Banerjee.

Aryan Banerjee. Photo: Supplied

Aryan Banerjee, who was 9, was found hanging from a bathroom window at Taradale Primary School in mid-2016, after trying to escape a locked toilet cubicle that had no door handles.

A coroner found the death was avoidable and the school caretaker should have spotted the risks.

Figures released under the Official Information Act now show the Education Ministry spent $46,842.54 on legal fees for the school, which applied for "special reasons funding".

The ministry was unable to give a cost breakdown.

Aryan's father, Anjan Banerjee, said that was a lot of money.

"It feels like a ridiculous sum. But I do also understand that they were not only defending the school, but also the caretaker and the teacher. So I think that's almost like three defences in one, but I still stand by it feeling ridiculous."

Taradale Primary School's principal, Marty Hantz, has not responded to a request for comment.

At the inquest, the school used health and safety lawyer Garth Gallaway from Chapman Tripp to defend itself.

Dr Banerjee said his family paid its own legal bill, of more than $9000, to be represented by Nigel Hampton QC.

"It isn't a fair playing field, it never has been, never will be - because there are people with more money. The Ministry has more money.

"I find it interesting that the Board of Trustees says 'well it's not our buildings', and yet the Ministry says 'the school is your school'. I find it difficult to work that into the fact that they then say here's the money to defend yourselves against what will happen in the coroner's court."

But Anjan Banerjee said he had not lost all faith in the school.

"The school is a good school, but unfortunately this happened on their watch and, you know, I feel like I've been let down in so many ways by them."

"Yes, they were marvellous after the fact and helping us stay on our feet afterwards, with all the help from the families. But it's kind of like - 'yeah it happened but it's not our fault'. Well, whose fault is it?"

Dr Banerjee said he still wanted to hold a restorative justice meeting with those directly involved, including the caretaker and Aryan's classroom teacher, whose names are permanently suppressed.

"I am going to do it, it's just - at the moment it's not something I'm ready to do. But it is in my mind to sit down with them at some point."

Neither the police or Worksafe laid charges, and the family ran out of time to file a private prosecution over the death.

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