Ex-minister wants answers on army bridge inquiry

By Helen Tunnah

A former Defence Minister denied access to the Army’s secret report on the bridge that collapsed and killed a beekeeper says military officials should explain if they broke the law by not telling him about it.

Max Bradford said he was "appalled" that the Defence Force had not shown him the report of a retired army engineer George Butcher, who investigated the collapse of the Army-built bridge on the King Country farm of Keith and Margaret Berryman.

Kenneth Richards was killed in 1994 when his truck plunged 30m into a ravine when the bridge broke as he drove over it after collecting honey.

Mr Bradford said yesterday he was angry the report had not been made available to all investigating bodies.

"There’s an issue about whether or not there’s a criminality involved in not advising the minister who is responsible," he said.

The Defence Force continues to refuse to release its full internal report, saying it is a long-standing principle that evidence at a military inquiry is not used in other proceedings. The Berrymans’ lawyer, Rob Moodie, has said the report reveals the Army knew there were design and construction faults with the bridge and some materials used.

The farming couple were unsuccessfully prosecuted by Occupational Safety and Health after a 1997 coroner’s inquiry found them partly to blame for the bridge’s collapse because they had not properly maintained it.

But the coroner did not see the court of inquiry findings, and yesterday Dr Moodie denied claims by Prime Minister Helen Clark that the Army had given the Berrymans’ original lawyer the report.

The Government last week refused to let New Zealand First leader Winston Peters table the report in Parliament.

Mr Bradford, a former National Party Defence and Labour Minister, said he had asked the Army and OSH for everything they prepared on the bridge’s collapse.

He said if he was charitable the Defence officials might not have known about it, or they "chose not to tell me".

"It’s an appalling action on the part of officials. And in my view, if this was a deliberate act on the part of an official, it should be a criminal offence."

He has not read the report, but said yesterday he could think of no national security or military reasons for the Army not disclosing it.

The High Court has ruled the report cannot be used by the Berrymans as evidence for a new coroner’s inquiry, but last week Dr Moodie posted it on the internet and it is now circulating widely.

The Defence Force has lodged a contempt-of-court complaint against Dr Moodie.

Helen Clark yesterday told Paul Holmes on radio the Army had given the report to the Berrymans’ lawyers, but she did not know when.

She said the Army did not involve lawyers in its internal investigations because it tried to get to the truth of matters with troopers.

Dr Moodie told the Herald last night it was simply not correct to say the Berrymans’ lawyer had ever seen the report, in any form.

"If it had been released, it would have been used," he said.

The Defence Force is not subject to oversight by the State Services Commission, but could be asked to explain its actions by Defence Minister Mark Burton.

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