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White Island owners among those charged in WorkSafe investigation over eruption tragedy

Whakaari Management Limited and its three directors are among the 13 parties being charged over the Whakaari/White Island eruption almost one year ago.

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WorkSafe has refused to reveal who the 13 parties are who have been charged, but many have already come forward. Source: 1 NEWS

On December 9, 2019, 22 people died when the volcano erupted with tour groups on the island.

Yesterday, WorkSafe announced it has filed criminal charges against 13 parties as part of its investigation.

This morning, Brendan Meech, the solicitor for Whakaari Management Limited, confirmed to 1 NEWS that the company and its three directors James, Peter and Andrew Buttle had been charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Details of the charges have not been received yet, though.

"Whakaari Management Limited is a private company associated with the family ownership of the island and which granted licences to the operators that undertook tours to the island," Meech said.

"They will not be making further comment while the legal proceedings continue, other than to express their sorrow for those who have suffered as a result of the tragedy."

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Ten are charged with failing to ensure the health and safety of workers and others and face maximum fines of $1.5 million. Source: 1 NEWS

Ten parties are facing criminal charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act, with a maximum fine of $1.5 million.

Three individuals are also being criminally charged as directors or individuals who were required to exercise due diligence to ensure the company met its health and safety obligations.

Volcanic Air, GNS Science, National Emergency Management (NEMA) and White Island Tours are among the 10 parties charged.

Volcanic Air was the first company to announce it was being charged, saying in a statement yesterday details of the charges were "not immediately available".

"We will take some time to consider the charges before making any comment," the statement said.

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GNS Science and National Emergency Management (NEMA) did not seek name suppression over the charges. Source: 1 NEWS

In her post-Cabinet press conference yesterday, Jacinda Ardern confirmed that GNS Science and National Emergency Management (NEMA) had been charged and had waived their right to name suppression.

"The reason you have seen both of those entities being fully transparent around the fact that they are amongst those charged, is because in the first flush, time is allowed for individuals to make the decision as to whether or not they give that information in case they wish to seek suppression," she said. 

In a statement, GNS Science said it will "take some time to consider our next steps given the broader implications".

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Families of the victims have been sent the decision nearly a year on from the disaster, which killed 22 people and badly burned 23 others. Source: 1 NEWS

"We stand by our people and our science — which we will continue to deliver for the benefit of NZ.

"We will continue to co-operate fully with the authorities, while carrying on with the crucial role GNS Science has in monitoring and sharing scientific information about Aotearoa New Zealand’s geohazards, including volcanoes.

"The 2019 eruption at Whakaari was a tragic event, and one year on, our thoughts are still with those who were seriously injured and their families. Our thoughts are also with the families of those who lost their lives and the affected communities," a GNS spokesperson said.

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Mark Inman says his brother would not have wanted some of his friends to be charged over the tragedy. Source: 1 NEWS

Chairman of White Island Tours Limited, Paul Quinn, also released a statement to 1 NEWS yesterday saying the company had been charged with two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

"No employees or directors of the company have been charged," the statement read.

"On 9 December 2019 Whakaari/White Island erupted claiming the lives of 22 people and causing serious injuries to a further 22. At the time we expressed our heartfelt condolences to the families in New Zealand and abroad that lost their loved ones and we continue to include them in our prayers. Similarly to the survivors we continue to offer our love and support," Quinn said. 

"On the first anniversary of this tragic day we will come together as a community to mourn the victims and pay our respects."

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Today police confirmed Horst Westenfelder, 64, died in an overseas hospital in July. Source: 1 NEWS