Prosecuting the boss of a forestry company for the manslaughter of a young worker killed by a falling tree has as much to do with politics as evidence, a court has heard.
The allegation was made by the boss' lawyer in his opening remarks to the landmark trial today.
Paul Robert Burr is charged with the manslaughter of 20-year-old Lincoln Kidd, who was crushed to death on a Horowhenua forestry block in December 2013.
In the High Court at Palmerston North, Burr is also facing a count of breaching health and safety legislation. The 47-year-old has pleaded not guilty.
The Crown says Burr's actions were directly responsible for Mr Kidd's death and he was "indifferent to the risk of harm" on the iwi-owned forestry site.
In a brief opening statement to the jury, defence lawyer Jonathan Temm said every aspect of the Crown case was in dispute.
He questioned the conduct of workplace safety investigator WorkSafe NZ, who he said wanted to make a political point and "lay down a marker" after the Pike River mining disaster.
"They think Paul Burr is that marker," Mr Temm said.
"The decision to prosecute Mr Burr in this case has not been made solely on the basis of the evidence. The defence says to you that one of the issues in this trial is the role of the new workplace state regulator in workplace safety, WorkSafe NZ, and in this trial we're going to look at the conduct of the regulator and how they've gone about their investigation."
Other issues Mr Temm told the jury to consider included the reason Mr Kidd was working behind Burr, less than 10 metres away, when he was supposed to be elsewhere.
Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk said the manslaughter charge was laid because Burr's actions were "a major departure of the duty of care owed to Mr Kidd".
"He died of extensive compressive injuries to his head, chest and back caused by a falling tree. The tree has been felled by the defendant, Mr Paul Burr, who at the time had over 25 years of forestry experience."
Burr had broken what's known as the two-tree rule - "a cardinal rule of forestry" - by not making sure the area covered by two lengths of the tree being felled were clear.
His attitude to health and safety was in general haphazard, the Crown says, and Burr did not act with "care and diligence continuously", as he should have.
The second of about 30 Crown witnesses to be called in three-week trial was Shane Perritt, a forestry adviser with more than 30 years' experience.
He conducted two audits into health and safety systems at Burr's company in 2013 and 2014, the results of which were mostly positive.
"These guys are aware of the risks they face. They know what they are doing. They're in a good space," Mr Perritt concluded after his second audit.
Another witness, John Franklin, assessed Burr when he sat industry unit standards in 2011. He said Burr was competent in both theory and practical.
Mr Franklin also had a look at Burr's felling technique, which was "pretty good" with only a couple of small things to work on.
The trial, before Justice Brendan Brown, continues.