Hawk Packaging charges dropped

By COREY CHARLTON


Charges laid against Hawk Packaging and its director Tim Combs after a massive blaze at the company's Hastings plant have been dropped.

The prosecution decided not to continue at the beginning of yesterday morning's proceedings and Judge Stanley Thorburn subsequently dismissed the charges. The defence, led by counsels Magnus Macfarlane and Lara Blomfield, had not opened its case.

The hearing began on Tuesday last week and was initiated by Hawk Packaging neighbour ENZA Foods, after its property was damaged in the January 17, 2012, fire. It brought legal action in a bid to recover insurance costs.

Prosecutor Neil Beadle said the informant decided not to proceed after reviewing the evidence so far. He would not comment further.

The January 17 inferno was considered one of the largest fought in Hawke's Bay, forcing the evacuation of nearby homes and requiring firefighters from throughout the North Island to attend. The heat was so intense it melted oxygen masks and tyres. It shattered windscreens and blistered paint on fire trucks. Ash fallout rained down and was evident kilometres away.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Combs said he was pleased the charges were dismissed.

"I would like to thank the many people who have been overlooked in this process, including my staff, and, of course, the firemen and women who were very brave in fighting the fire.

"I would also like to thank the many loyal customers who have stood by us over the past 12 months and we look forward to dealing with them again when our new facility is up and running later on this year."

He had faced two charges of breaching the Health and Safety in Employment Act and two other charges laid against Hawk Packaging.

The prosecution earlier alleged the systems and equipment in place to deal with such a fire were inadequate and the company failed to repair important firefighting equipment in the wake of a fire which preceded the January 2012 inferno.

That was disputed by the defence, which said fire extinguishers and nearby hoses were available. There were also steps taken by Hawk Packaging management to address issues with "smouldering" paper trays, believed to have been the cause of the fire.

Judge Thorburn said: "As an aside as well, it's been an interesting journey, I must say, sitting and listening.

"And at the end of the day, clearly there was food for thought that was coming to me in respect of the crucial issues."

ENZA Foods general manager Jon Marks did not return calls yesterday.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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