Charges against Whakaari White Island owners dismissed

The individual owners of Whakaari White Island have had the charges against them dismissed in the Auckland District Court on Tuesday.  

In throwing out the charges, Judge Evangelos Thomas said WorkSafe produced no evidence at all as to what happened behind the scenes between the individual directors.  

The Buttle brothers - Peter, James and Andrew - were charged individually along with their company Whakaari Management Ltd (WML).  

The decision comes over two months after the trial opened.  

"These applications are not about whether any of Andrew, James or Petter Buttle are guilty or not guilty," Judge Thomas said.  

"It is about whether there is even enough evidence to continue with the charges at this stage." 

The brothers made a second bid last week to have the charges dismissed, with the judge indicating he would decide by Tuesday. 

Lawyer for the Buttle brothers, James Cairney, argued WorkSafe produced no evidence to prove any one of them had failed in their duty of care to tourists in the 2019 eruption that killed 22 people. 

"Your honour, this has gone on for quite some time, there is absolutely no surprise," Cairney told Judge Thomas.  

"We should not be at the point now and saying we need to find the evidence that goes to the elements of the offence." 

Cairney said WorkSafe's investigation was "utterly flawed."  

"In respect of its non-investigation into the three directors or its half-baked investigation into the three directors," he continued.  

WorkSafe argued the three Buttle brothers neglected their duty to the tourists on Whakaari White Island even though three people at WorkSafe had earlier recommended no action against them.  

"It was an investigation into other parties, things spun off about these individuals, they were lumped together as the Buttles." 

Cairney said investigators never looked at the nitty-gritty of how the Buttles operated their company, Whakaari Management Limited, or its finances. 

"We don't know how decisions were made, we don't know any roles in respect of them." 

He said, at one point, James Buttle told a meeting tours should stop or go based purely on Volcanic Alert Levels (VALs), a move which would have lost revenue. 

"There's a horrible irony in that had a VAL 2 limit been part of the system, there would have been no tours from November 17 and no tours on December 9 when Whakaari erupted," he said.