One of New Zealand's top racehorse trainers has been fined and ordered to pay more than $370,000 in reparation after a young, aspirational female jockey was left a tetraplegic.
In 2016, Sophia Malthus was left paralysed after the then 19-year-old came off a horse at one of Stephen McKee's stables near Ardmore in Auckland.
The trainer, with some 31 years of experience, pleaded guilty earlier this year to one charge of exposing a person to risk of serious harm or death after a WorkSafe NZ investigation.
On Friday afternoon he was sentenced in the Auckland District Court by Judge Noel Sainsbury.
It was the first sentencing of its kind in New Zealand, the court has heard.
At the time of the accident Malthus, now in her early 20s, was employed by McKee as a stable hand but had dreams of becoming an apprentice jockey and racing thoroughbreds.
While she had a small amount of riding experience Malthus had never ridden a thoroughbred working racehorse before the day of the accident, the court heard.
To help achieve her aspirations her parents sent her to a training centre in Palmerston North earlier in 2016 where she rode quiet and older horses inside an arena.
At the end of the course she was described as a beginner rider who was developing well but still lacked the muscle strength to ride in the saddle of a working racehorse, the court heard.
It was also advised she needed to gain more experience on quiet horses before making the leap to racehorses.
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Despite this, McKee was unaware of the directive and didn't contact the equestrian centre the court heard.
When Malthus returned to his track near Auckland it was proposed she could have her first ride on a working racehorse.
McKee had never seen Malthus ride but she was allowed into the saddle of a 3-year-old thoroughbred.
The horse, which has name suppression, was regarded as generally well mannered and didn't have a tendency to bolt, spit and rear, the court heard.
Wearing a helmet, vest and riding boots and accompanied by an apprentice jockey on another horse, Malthus rode out onto the training track.
It was about 8.30am as McKee watched them complete the first lap at a trot.
Malthus then took the horse on a second lap - this time at a canter.
But she soon lost control.
"Unfortunately this led to panic," Judge Sainsbury said. "An inexperienced rider reacting to the horse only made things worse."
Those around the track attempted to shut the gates to keep the horse from bolting, but the animal gained speed and headed straight for the perimeter fence.
Malthus then lost control of the reins and fell.
"It appears she hit the fence, Judge Sainsbury said. "Alternatively, she may have been struck by one of the horse's hooves."
Malthus broke the C5 vertebrae in her spine. She would never walk again.
For the following six days she remained in intensive care and spent a further 12 weeks in a spinal unit before nine more months in residential rehab.
The accident has left her with almost no sensation or motor skills from the collarbone down and she now requires constant care while living with her parents.
Malthus and her family's victim impact statements were not read aloud in court at her request on Friday, while she also declined an interview with the Herald earlier in the week.
"I have to say I found them harrowing reading," Judge Sainsbury said of the statements.
The WorkSafe investigation concluded McKee knew or should have known of the hazards and risks the young rider faced on his horse and track.
It also found Malthus lacked the formal training required to be put in charge of a working racehorse and hadn't ridden horses before at a gallop.
McKee told WorkSafe investigators thoroughbreds were "a flight animal and right at the top of the list as far as unpredictability goes".
Judge Sainsbury said McKee could have obtained independent feedback about Malthus' riding abilities from the equestrian centre and given her gradual training and development.
But the judge commended the veteran trainer for taking responsibility by pleading guilty and cooperating throughout the investigation.
Through his lawyer, Paul Wicks QC, McKee extended his "deepest sympathies" and could only describe what happened as "tragic".
The judge said McKee's record until the accident had been "impeccable".
"It's a tragedy for everyone, I understand that."
During the hearing, Judge Sainsbury also grappled with the question of what full compensation for such an accident might be.
"What should a 19-year-old be compensated for basically never moving again for the rest of her life?"
"What is the dollar figure for that? Nearest million would be nice," he asked counsel.
The judge said the ACC compensation system might be seen as fantastic for the white, middle-aged male but "not so crash hot" for a young woman on the minimum wage.
ACC caps the compensation for consequential losses at 80 per cent of a person's income, the court heard.
"I don't think any other living, breathing person on this planet would say that's fair compensation, but that's the system we've got," Judge Sainsbury said while calculating a monetary figure.
The consequences of the accident for Malthus were "catastrophic", the judge said, while the ripple effects were just as devastating both physically and psychologically.
"She has lost almost all movement," he added. "And her independence has been taken from her.
"This is a 19-year-old young woman who finds herself facing a very difficult future."
He hoped Malthus, who was not in court for the sentencing but her stepfather was, would "bring as much courage as she can muster".
When awarding reparation, the judge said the amount "will never fully compensate or come close to the level of harm done".
After ordering $110,000 for emotional harm damage, he said: "This can in no way be true compensation. It is the best that can be done in the circumstances."
A figure of $262,000 in consequential loss reparation was also awarded, largely due to Malthus' inability to work.
But Judge Sainsbury said it was "deeply insulting" for someone who was injured while on the minimum wage to have compensation measured as if they would've remained on minimum wage for the rest of their life.
"This level of reparation can never be seen as reflective of the worth of Sophia Malthus," he added.
"I can only hope that things for Ms Malthus and her family improve."
Malthus, according to her Instagram page, has recently become a speaker at health and wellness workshops.
McKee was also fined $30,000 and ordered to pay court costs of $3000.
In a statement following the sentencing, WorkSafe said its investigation found McKee had failed to ensure Malthus was competent to ride a racehorse.
Head of specialist interventions Simon Humphries said McKee should have supervised and assessed the progression of the riding ability of the stable hand on more suitable horses.
McKee had been a horse trainer for more than 30 years and should have been aware of hazards and risks relating to the industry, he said.
"There was no formal training to monitor, supervise and progress her from stable hand to riding a racehorse," Humphries said.
"This young woman's life has been drastically affected and the incident serves as a reminder to employers that they must always ensure staff are capable of the job at hand."