Brother of guide killed on Whakaari/White Island says sentencing 'bittersweet'

7:11 pm on 1 March 2024
Mark Inman.

Mark Inman Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The brother of a man killed in the Whakaari/White Island eruption says news his family will receive about $250,000 in reparations is "bittersweet".

Twenty-two people were killed and 25 injured when the island - a popular tourist destination - erupted in December 2019.

In the Auckland District Court on Friday, Judge Evangelos Thomas sentenced five companies and one Crown-owned entity for health and safety failings in the lead-up to the disaster.

Collectively, they were ordered to pay $10.21 million in reparations and about $2 million in fines.

Judge Thomas said the people injured, and the families of those killed, would each receive $250,000 - but that figure would be adjusted, for example, in cases where children were left without parents or where families lost more than one loved one.

Mark Inman's brother Hayden Marshall-Inman was a Whakaari/White Island guide and the first person confirmed dead in the eruption.

Inman was in court on Friday for the sentencing and told Checkpoint it was "bittersweet".

Tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman whose body has not been recovered since the Whakaari White Island eruption.

Hayden Marshall-Inman was one of 22 people killed in the Whakaari/White Island eruption. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"No matter what way you look at it, it doesn't bring anybody home.

"To try and point blame doesn't [make it] better or any easier, to be honest."

It had been an "emotionally draining" week in court, he said, with the ripple effect from the eruption plain to see. The victims and their families were not the only ones hurting - the lawyers and even the judge were clearly emotionally affected, he said.

Inman told Checkpoint he kept in touch with many of the survivors and families from the eruption, many of whom live overseas.

"I guess you become sort of an exclusive club, in some ways, that you don't really want to be a part of, but you are.

"After this week, the club's become tighter and closer and you do share stories and talk and communicate and you check in with each other.

The group toured the island before finishing their trip and leaving on their boat. After they left they saw the eruption happening behind them.

Twenty-two people died when Whakaari/White Island erupted in December 2019. Photo: Screengrab / YouTube / Allessandro Kauffman

"I guess that's the important lesson learned out of this whole week, is you're not alone in your troubles and the way you deal with grief. There's other people out there in a similar situation and [they] understand where you're coming from."

Inman said he still loved Whakaari/White Island and looked at it every day from his home.

He described it as a "natural wonder of the world" and said he would be happy to visit again in future.

"I'm not afraid of the island. I think it's a beautiful place, and even just the marine life around there is just amazing and incredible to go and view."

He also said he would be happy for tourism to start back up there in the future.

Tourists had visited the island for decades before the eruption, he said, which was a tradition worth keeping.

"If there's a car accident on the Kaimais, we don't shut the Kaimais down for the rest of the lifetime of the Kaimais, so if we did some real good homework around protective measures and what it would take to get back on the island, perhaps you could [run tours again]."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs