Persecuted, victimised, abuse of Government powers and a travesty of justice are the words that come to mind when you consider what Keith and Margaret Berryman have been through over the past 20 yearsits a closed case as far as Occupational Safety and Health (now WorkSafe NZ) and the Government are concerned. Its also a tragic event now long faded from the publics memory. This was a case where the Berrymans friend, beekeeper Ken Richards, died after plunging off a suspension bridge into a King Country river in 1994. The bridge was erected by the NZ Army on Crown land and funded by the Berrymans.
Even though it is obvious OSH should never have been involved in the first place, within six months this newly established (at the time) Government department, hell-bent on making a ground-breaking test case, laid charges against the Berrymans, arguing this was a workplace accident and the Berrymans were responsible for not maintaining the bridge leading to their farm even though there was no autopsy performed on the body, there was no scientific proof the bridge was defective and the Berrymans did not employ Richards, whom they simply allowed to use their farm to collect honey.
Perhaps Richards had a heart attack while crossing the bridge. Perhaps he was stung by a swarm of bees and lost control of the vehicle. Perhaps excessive speed was the cause. This we will never know because the coroner never saw fit to perform a thorough investigation a standard procedure today.
Fourteen years after the event, a judicial review by Justice Jill Mallon quashed the 1997 coroners report that blamed the Berrymans they finally felt justice had prevailed.
Unfortunately, that was not the case. Along the way there were cover-ups, secret army reports the NZ Army were adamant would be kept secret. They also lost their farmhouse in a suspicious fire that was reported to have been started in two locations inside the property. After numerous court cases, inquests and hearings, the saga did eventually lead to the Berrymans receiving a grossly inadequate payout which they reluctantly accepted under duress which went to repay a mortgage taken out mostly to repair the bridge on Crown land controlled by the Ruapehu District Council.
Eventually the Berrymans had no alternative but to sell their farm, when they had always intended to pass it on to their children, and at a time when farm prices were extremely depressed, not to mention straining their marriage to the limits and affecting their health after years of torment with the axe of a jail term hanging over their heads.
At this point lesser people would have walked away, but not the Berrymans, who are now in their 80s. The Berrymans to this day are unwavering in their attempt to see that justice is not denied and that a fair and reasonable settlement is forthcoming. I suspect the Berrymans will take their cause to their deathbeds before they would relent and walk away, simply accepting their lot.
What the Berrymans now need is a gallant political knight in shining armour to champion their cause, to highlight the injustices that have been stacked upon them and to ensure political doors are opened to seek justice. Step forward King Arthur and help these people ... thats the New Zealand way when Goliath has trampled all over David.
Steve Baron is a Wanganui-based political scientist, co-editor of the book People Power and founder of Better Democracy NZ.