Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Inconsitency In Evidence At Catherine Peters Manslaughter Trial

We’ve noticed a glaring inconsistency in the evidence being presented at the trial of Alistair McWhannell, Crag Adventures, for the manslaughter of Catherine Peters.

Back at the depositions hearing in August the Crown said that Mr McWhannell “had overseen 80 jumps from the bridge (and) failed to take proper care with Ms Peters’ second jump”

But in the evidence presented before the court yesterday the Prosecutor Evan McCaughan said Mr McWhannell had supervised close to 20,000 bridge-swings prior to Ms Peters’ fall.

Now, which is it?

How many jumps did McWhannell supervise in the period October-March and how does the prosecution explain the enormous difference in the figures?

Evidence presented before the court alleges that McWhannell was distracted by another woman whilst preparing Catherine for her second jump:
“The Crown says McWhannell was the only one in charge of the swing and he failed to do his job.
Mr McCaughan told the jury the rope was not secured to the bridge. “His job was simple, he had to do it for every jump,” he said.
Ms Peters was on her second jump that day but the Crown alleges McWhannell was distracted by a woman who was meant to jump after her. McWhannell had allegedly met that woman on the internet and intended to do a tandem jump with her.
It proved a fatal distraction.
He knew the rope was too long the moment she jumped,” Mr McCaughan told the jury.
For the first time today, Ms Peters’ family came to court. In a statement they describe how they miss her.
“We miss terribly her bouncing into a room, enthusiastic about her latest idiosyncratic discovery, her humour, her insightfulness and wisdom, her friendship and mentoring, her sense of fun.
“The man who loved Catherin support one another in this ongoing heartbreak.”
Ms Peters would have turned 20 last Saturday.”
We’re reminded of the comment that “complacency and an underestimation of risks” contributed to a canyoning tragedy that killed 6 students and their teacher in another outdoor adventure tragedy in NZ.

We are left wondering wondering why such critical elements such as the length of a rope and making sure to tie it off can ever be allowed, surely ‘human error’ is foreseeable?.
Where are the fail safes in this ‘safe’ system of work and why did safety inspectors allow this practice to continue? (i

Update 16 June 2010 - Climbing Wall Guidance Issued May 2010
Amazingly no official safety guidance for something as established as Climbing Walls existed in New Zealand at the time of a serious 'accident' at Ferg’s Rock and Kayak, Wellington in 2008.

Following the incident the Dept of Labour issued a “hazard bulletin”, including a safety checklist, to 35 operators of climbing walls nationwide to help them ensure they take all practicable steps, as required by law, to protect their customers. (Official safety guidance for climbing wall operators has been around since 2001 in the UK)
"The Department had been concerned at the growing number of wall climbing accidents and believes the industry’s development of guidelines is important to improve safety standards. The Department will work with the industry as required to facilitate this.
The need for such guidelines was endorsed by the Greymouth coroner last month in his findings on the death of a woman after a climbing wall accident in Greymouth in April 2009.
The Department’s key messages to climbing wall managers are to ensure beginners are properly instructed in belay procedures and demonstrate competence before climbing, and to ensure constant supervision of the climbing wall.  They also need to review safety procedures to ensure they meet minimum standards and ensure their lead instructors hold suitable New Zealand Outdoor Instructors Association qualification." source
 Isn't about time that similar guidance and support was issued to operators of bridge swings?

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  1. AnonymousJune 15, 2010

    The answer is quite obvious, Alistair had safely overseen thousands of jumps from the bridge prior to the awful tragedy that happened. There had been about 80 jumps on that day. I have been one of Alistair's happy customers and have always found he takes great care with safety. It is terrible that such a small error caused such a tragedy but the man's integrity does not need to be challenged. He is paying a terrible price (I don't mean just because he has been charged)for what happened.

  2. Sadly Catherine and her family paid a terrible price too.

    There must have been something wrong with the safe system of work used at the swing.

    There should have been fail-safes in place to protect against operator errors. Something is seriously wrong with a system when a brief distraction can so easily result in tragedy, there can be no room for mistakes in an operation such as this.

    It's up to the court weigh up the evidence and decide decide if Mr McWhannell is guilty of manslaughter.

    Our feeling is that operators should be given guidance by the authorities that enforce Health and Safety. The industry should be better regulated, especially the more 'novel' sports/activities

  3. AnonymousJune 17, 2010

    I totally agree, with better regulation and safety systems these activities would be much safer. This awful case only highlights a wider problem which you would think would be better legislated for than it currently is.

  4. The ACC also has a role to play in this.

    The state should stop 'picking up the tab' for adventure tourism related injuries and the private insurance industry given much far more responsibility.

    Higher premiums, or a flat refusal to provide cover, may raise safety standards significantly across the industry. It's something we'd like to see come out of the present DOL review.


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