Rock tragedy dad: Where's the justice?

By Jim Tucker

Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye
Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye

For at least one family who lost a son in New Plymouth's Paritutu Rock tragedy last year, yesterday's court sentencing of the Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits and Education centre is well short of closure.

"Those people pay out $80,000-odd and then walk away and go back to work - where's the justice in that," said Bruce Gedye in the foyer of the city's courthouse, after hearing what would happen to the organisation he holds responsible for the death of his son.

He was referring to members of the Topec Trust, who were outside in front of television cameras, reiterating their remorse over the incident that claimed three lives in August last year and repeating their public apology.

Topec instructor Bryce Jourdain, 42, and 17-year-old school students Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye of Spotswood College and Felipe Melo, on exchange from Brazil, were swept from the seaward side of 600m high Paritutu Rock after a traverse exercise that went wrong. The remaining 11 in the party were rescued.

In the District Court yesterday, Judge Gerard Lynch convicted Topec on three health and safety charges over the deaths and ordered reparation totalling $269,500.

The packed-out hearing gave families a chance to read victim impact reports. Rachel Bryan spoke on behalf of her family who hosted Felipe for six weeks, and Mr Jourdain's wife, Robyn, expressed her feelings of loss for a husband she never expected would not return from work that day.

Mr Gedye delivered an emotional account of the tragedy's effects, saying the loss of Stephen had split his family and left him with feelings of anger, rage and frustration.

He realised a couple of weeks ago when skeletons were found on a Taranaki beach that he and his family were never likely to find closure.

One of the worst things was that the "creators of this tragedy" had started up again.

He was particularly upset he was denied a meeting with Topec through the restorative justice process.

As the findings were discussed, Mr Gedye said they were appalled nobody would be losing their positions.

He and his family had expected Topec to be shut down so it could be re-established by different people and with a clean slate. "So what sort of justice do you call that?"

In court, Andrew Gane, counsel for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, said the failures of Topec included not having enough information about the big swells forecast that day, leaving late for the trip and therefore going too close to high tide, not noting the sea conditions at the venue, and failing to ensure everyone was clipped to safety lines.

He called for a high band of fines - $100,000 on all three charges under the Employment Act - given that culpability was high.

After issuing a brief statement, Topec Trust members declined to comment further yesterday, saying they would go away to consider the organisation's future.

- APNZ

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