The first hearing of the Havelock North water contamination inquiry was not about facts or evidence, but "getting the show on the road".

Last month the Government announced an independent inquiry into August's widespread gastro outbreak, when E.coli in the Hastings suburb's water supply caused about 5200 people to become ill.

The inquiry, expected to report back by the end of next March, will explore the outbreak's cause, the responses to it, and how to prevent such instances in future.

Held at Hastings District Court, the public gallery was full as the hearing was opened by Honorable Justice Lyn Stevens QC.


"I do stress that today is about procedures, and getting the show on the road," Justice Stevens said, adding they did not intend to look at the facts or evidence during this hearing.

Instead it was about calling for appearances from interested parties, on preliminary and procedural matters, including the designation of parties as "core participants" under s17 of the Inquiries Act 2013.

They also discussed whether to conduct the inquiry in two stages. The first would relate to causes and issues of fault, and then the second stage dealing with systemic matters and possible changes needed for the future.

Justice Stevens noted that just because a party had not appeared at Hastings District court today, did not mean the inquiry would not receive submissions from them.

"I want to stress that this will be an inquisitorial investigation," he said. "It is not a court case."

Those who appeared included Hastings District, and Hawke's Bay Regional Councils, the Hawke's Bay District Health Board, MWH New Zealand ltd, and Crown Law on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Ministry for the Environment, and Department of Internal Affairs.

Local residents, and representatives of organisations and lobby groups were also present.

In his opening statement, counsel assisting the inquiry Nathan Gedye QC said he supported conducting the inquiry in two stages, and set out the issues of focus in both stages.

It was believed that the outbreak - regarded as one of the largest campylobacter from water supply - might be related to the death of three people, one of which was being investigated by the coroner, the contracting of guillian-barre syndrome by three people, and the development of reactive arthritis by others, he said.

The event led to a loss of confidence in Havelock North water, and given rise to questions around untreated water in New Zealand.

Speaking on the role of participants, Mr Gedye suggested all parties provide information on issues of focus in the inquiry - such as relating to their role, and responsbilities in relation to drinking water.

He also requested information about the contingency plans, and preparations in place for a contamination event.

It was not expected that all participants would have information to contribute on all issues - Mr Gedye agreed with the example of the regional council who would have information relating to the Brookvale Bores, while the HBDHB would have facts around the outbreak itself.

In his view, "this inquiry should focus only on what matters, and what should be learned for the future".

The inquiry would look at fault, but not at criminal, civil, or disciplinary liability.

Those parties who appeared supported the conducting of the inquiry in two stages, although stated their respective roles might play more part in one than the other.

Laywers representing the parties spoke of their clients support of the two-stage approach, and whether they wished to be designated as core participants in the inquiry.

On behalf of Hastings District Council, Matthew Casey QC said the council was probably more anxious than any other party to find out what had happened, and fully supported the inquiry, and the terms of reference.

Mr Casey said council hoped the inquiry would focus on the finding of facts, and evaluation of fact, than fault.

"Council does not want...the inquiry to become a finger pointing exercise, we're here to find the facts," he said.

Representatives for the Hawke's Bay Regional Council spoke of the council's regulatory role as relating to water supply, and the Brookvale Bores.

Council chief executive Andrew Newman introduced the panel to key staff involved in their independant investigation into the incident.

He said they were equally as concerned as the district council to "get to the bottom of this".

It was hoped their independent investigation would be completed by late November.

Although the hearing was expected to last all day, and possibly into tomorrow, it adjourned just before midday.

Acknowledging a tight timeframe, Justice Stevens had said they hoped to have all hearings completed by Christmas. Hearings would be held in late November and early December.