Whakaari White Island trial: Charges against ID Tours and Tauranga Tourism Services dismissed

  • 12/09/2023

Charges against two booking agencies in the Whakaari White Island trial have been dismissed in the Environment Court in Auckland on Tuesday.

The two booking agencies - ID Tours and Tauranga Tourism Services – made submissions in the Auckland District Court last week.  

They were among 13 parties charged by WorkSafe with failures under the Health and Safety at Work Act after 22 people died when Whakaari White Island erupted in December 2019.  

"Neither Tauranga Tourism nor ID Tours had workers on Whakaari, it was never their workplace, they did not influence or direct the workers of the tour operators in the carrying out of their work," Judge Evangelos Thomas said while delivering his ruling.

The lawyer for ID Tours David Neutze told the court last week WorkSafe's case was confusing and conflicting RNZ reported. 

"Even after six or seven weeks of evidence and at the end of the prosecution case, my submission is it's still entirely unclear what the 'appropriately detailed and up-to-date health and safety information about tours on Whakaari' ID Tours was legally obliged to provide to Royal Caribbean," Neutze said. 

"A big hole in the prosecution evidence is that we have no evidence from Royal Caribbean about what their requirements were." 

The lawyer for Tauranga Tourism Services said Neutze's remarks could be applied to her clients too RNZ reported. 

Both lawyers criticised the charging document, which alleges the agencies didn't work with each other to get appropriate and up-to-date health and safety information about tours on the island.  

"It is very vague and loose and I highlight that by reference to the 'appropriately detailed and up-to-date health and safety information', whatever that might be," Neutze said.

Last week the island's owners, the Buttle brothers – Andrew, Peter and James – also had their charges dismissed. But their company Whakaari Management Limited, still faces charges. 

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

The brothers made a second bid last month to have the charges dismissed, with the judge indicating he would decide by the beginning of September. 

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."