12 Jun 2013

Outdoors centre admits charges over deaths

9:18 pm on 12 June 2013

A Taranaki outdoors pursuits centre that ran a climbing course during which three people drowned has admitted failing to ensure the safety of an instructor and students in its care.

In August 2012, Spotswood College students Felipe Melo and Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye were swept off New Plymouth's Paritutu Rock and died, along with instructor Bryce Jourdain who jumped in to help them.

In the New Plymouth District Court on Wednesday the Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits and Education Centre (Topec) pleaded guilty to three counts of failing to ensure the safety of students, Mr Jourdain and a German volunteer helping him.

Lawyer Kylie Pascoe pleaded guilty on the centre's behalf and told the court she would investigate a restorative justice conference between Topec and those affected before sentencing on 6 September.

Topec says it has reviewed policies and processes following the tragedy. It could face fines of up to $250,000 on each of the charges.

Spotswood College principal Mark Bowden says a public debate is needed on how to ensure students are able to experience the outdoors while staying safe.

Mr Bowden told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Wednesday that the mother of one of the students who died is pleased that Topec pleaded guilty.

He said he continues to have faith in the centre, but the school is not using its services and students are not participating in outdoor education until all the issues around the incident are worked through.

New Plymouth mayor Harry Duynhoven says Topec has acknowledged its safety failings and has the community's support to continue.