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TOPEC sentenced for Paritutu rock deaths
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TOPEC sentenced for Paritutu rock deaths

23 October 2013

Taranaki Outdoor Pursuit and Education Centre Trust (TOPEC) has been ordered to pay reparations totalling $269,500 on three charges after the deaths of two students and an instructor during a rock traverse on Paritutu Rock in New Plymouth on 8 August 2012.

As TOPEC was a charitable trust Judge Gerald Lynch did not impose any fines but ordered $75,000 reparation each for Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye and Joao Felipe Martins de Melo, both 17. Some money had already been paid in reparations for the death of instructor Bryce Jourdain, but the company were ordered to pay a further $67,000. Eight other Spotswood College students are to be paid $5000, one student $7,500 and an intern $5000.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment laid the three charges and sentences were handed down in the New Plymouth District Court today.

The victims were part of a Spotswood College party making the traverse around Paritutu Rock and were caught by rising swells, a rising tide and worsening sea conditions around the rock. They were drowned.

The Court heard that instructors should have checked a swell forecast on a website that described sea conditions on the seaward side of the rock rather than the website covering the landward-facing side of the rock. The Ministry also told the Court the standard operating procedure for the traverse should have included environmental factors such as tides and swell conditions and that the trip should only have occurred as near as possible to low tide. Lifejackets should also have been worn by the instructors.

“The tragedy of this case is that the party was participating in active learning and should have been able to rely on TOPEC to have done everything possible to protect them. It didn’t and three people lost their lives,” Keith Stewart, Chief Inspector Investigations said.

“With these kinds of adventure activities – which are potentially very dangerous - parents put their trust in the operators to make sure their children are kept safe. This case reinforces that responsibility.

“The key lesson is that operators have to be constantly using and improving their safety systems to ensure people are kept safe.”

Health and Safety in Employment Act Charges against TOPEC

One charge – Section 6 (maximum fine $250,000)

Employers to ensure safety of employees

  • Every employer shall take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of employees while at work; and in particular shall take all practicable steps to—
    • (a) provide and maintain for employees a safe working environment; and
    • (b) provide and maintain for employees while they are at work facilities for their safety and health; and
    • (c) ensure that plant used by any employee at work is so arranged, designed, made, and maintained that it is safe for the employee to use; and
    • (d) ensure that while at work employees are not exposed to hazards arising out of the arrangement, disposal, manipulation, organisation, processing, storage, transport, working, or use of things—
      • (i) in their place of work; or
      • (ii) near their place of work and under the employer's control; and
    • (e) develop procedures for dealing with emergencies that may arise while employees are at work


One charge Section 6 (above) and Section 3 e (maximum fine $250,000)

Application of Act to persons receiving on the job training or gaining work experience

  • (1) This Act, except for Part 2A, applies when a person who is not an employee is in a place of work for the purpose of receiving on the job training or gaining work experience (person A).
  • (2) For the purposes of this Act,—
    • (a) person A must be treated as if he or she were an employee of the person who has agreed to provide the on the job training or work experience (person B); and
    • (b) person B must be treated as if that person were person A's employer; and
    • (c) person A must be treated as if he or she were at work when in the place of work for the purposes set out in subsection (1).


One charge Section 15 (maximum fine $250,000)

Duties of employers to people who are not employees

  • Every employer shall take all practicable steps to ensure that no action or inaction of any employee while at work harms any other person.


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