Whakaari / White Island owners fail to get charges against them dismissed

5:24 pm on 18 October 2022
Whakaari / White Island

Forty-seven people were on Whakaari / White Island when it erupted in December 2019, with 22 people losing their lives and many suffering serious injuries and trauma. (file photo) Photo: Unsplash / Farrah Fuerst

The owners of Whakaari Island will face charges relating to health and safety breaches in the lead up to the deadly 2019 Whakaari eruption, after having their application for dismissal thrown out in the Auckland District Court today.

Judge Evangelos Thomas said the evidence provided by the Buttle family, who owned the island, fell well short of establishing any bad faith or improper motive on the part of WorkSafe.

The company owned by Andrew, James and Peter Buttle - Whakaari Management Ltd (WML) - is charged with failing to understand the island's hazards or make sure there was a safe way to evacuate.

Judge Thomas declined the S147 application to dismiss the charges ruling that the precedents cited by the brothers, including a 2018 Talleys ruling, were insufficient to show an abuse of process or denote a reversal of onus.

The brothers argued that the charging documents they received did not convey the scope of the allegations they faced.

However, Judge Thomas said whether a charging document was particularised depended on circumstances of the case.

The courts would always try to find a way to remedy a defect to allow a fair trial to go ahead, he said.

The trial is set to take place in nine months.

There were 47 people on the island at the time of the eruption, with 22 losing their lives and many suffering serious injuries and trauma.

Most of the people on the island were international tourists.

WorkSafe has laid charges against the island's owner Whakaari Management Limited and its directors Andrew, James and Peter Buttle; GNS Science; the National Emergency Management Agency; White Island Tours Limited; Volcanic Air Safaris Limited; Aerius Limited; Kahu NZ Limited; Inflite Charters Limited; ID Tours New Zealand Limited; and Tauranga Tourism Services Limited.

The charges do not relate to the rescue operation after the eruption.

All defendants have pleaded not guilty.

WorkSafe chief executive Phil Parkes said the charges concluded the most extensive and complex investigation ever undertaken by the regulator.

Of the 10 organisations charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, nine face a section 36 charge (failure to ensure the health and safety of workers and others).

There are three individuals charged under section 44 of the Act which requires directors, or individuals with significant influence over a company to exercise due diligence that the company is meeting its health and safety obligations under the act.

The Buttle family has owned the Whakaari Island since 1936.

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