Catherine Peters Manslaughter Trial Starts

Catherine Peters

The trial of the man accused of the manslaughter of student Catherine Peters started today.

Catherine Peters, was an 18 year old student in her first year of a veterinary degree at Massey University. She died in March last year from injuries sustained when she fell 20 metres from the Ballance Bridge in the Manawatu Gorge, near Woodville. She was participating in a commercially-run bridge swing exercise with Massey University’s alpine club, organised by Crag Adventures.

She left behind a grieving family – her father Bosco, author of www.liturgy.co.nz, mother Helen and brother Jonathan. Our thoughts are with them and with her friends and wider family at this very difficult time.

Interestingly, a government review of the adventure tourism industry, instigated after the drowning of Emily Jordan, has been completed but has yet to be released. We suspect this is because the government is waiting for this trial to be concluded. Also placed on the back-burner is the inquest into Emily’s death, with talk of it being held in the UK if no progress is made in New Zealand.

Emily’s father, Chris Jordan wrote to John Key, Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism, calling for a review of the industry and saying  NZ safety regulation was “third world” after his daughter died in a river boarding activity. He also called the fine given to the Mad Dog Riverboarding company “an insult

The Dom Post has reported on the Catherine Peters trial today saying:

“The man accused of the manslaughter of Catherine Peters, who died in a bridge swinging accident, failed to ensure her safety, a jury has been told.
Adventure company owner Alistair McWhannell, is accused of failing to ensure Ms Peters, 18, was safe when she jumped from Ballance Bridge, near Woodville, on March 7 and fell 22 metres on to rocks.

His trial began this morning in the Palmerston North High Court.

Prosecutor Evan McCaughan said Mr McWhannell failed to ensure Ms Peters’ safety by not using the correct length of rope, and failing to correctly tie off her rope to the bridge.

Ms Peters’ family – who are in court – have released a statement saying they missed her terribly.

”We are grateful for every amazing moment we had together with Catherine. Catherine was wise and insightful beyond her years,” her parents Bosco and Helen Peters, and brother Jonathan said.”

Further details about the trial procedings were published in a release on Voxy:

Earlier in the day, McWhannell had told several people after Ms Peters’ fall he had “f**ked up”, and had had a lapse in concentration, Mr McCaughan said. “He said something along the lines of: ‘It’s like when you’re in your car and coming out of your driveway and you look left and right. Well this time I only looked left’,” Mr McCaughan told the court.

However, in a subsequent police interview, McWhannell’s story was different, Mr McCaughan said. “He then claimed that as far as he knew he had pulled the ropes up and tied them off.”

Mr McCaughan said McWhannell had supervised close to 20,000 bridge-swings prior to Ms Peters’ fall.

His job involved two key aspects — ensuring the rope was pulled up to the correct length after each jump and tying the rope on the bridge each time, Mr McCaughan said.

His job was simple. He only had to ensure two things — one at each end of the rope,” he said.

“His job was simple but he absolutely had to do it for every jumper. If the accused didn’t do his job the jumper would almost certainly die.”

Bungy Jump Fall

There have been no further reports about the condition of an Australian tourist, 39 year old Kirsty Moulder from the Blue Mountains, who slipped out of a bungy harness and was seriously injured whilst making a jump with Thrillseekers at Hanmer Springs last month.

Thrillseekers had only been running the operation since October 2009. See “Australian Tourist Injured In Bungy Accident, Another Has Collapsed Lung”

The press reported that the proprietors of the bungy jump had entered into “full support and compensation payment” discussions with Ms Moulder and her husband. As far as we are aware there has been no decision to prosecute at present.

Last year there were multiple trials relating to adventure tourism deaths in new zealand including:

  • Tor Presto – 24, from Norway, drowned in October 2007 when he was swept under water after a collision between two rafts on a grade five rapid on the river.
  • Paul Woods – A British general surgeon at Dunedin Hospital died when the jet boat he was a passenger in flipped after hitting a gravel bank in the Matukituki River. His partner Dr Leanne Tonney and her brother Dave were injured in the crash. The boat was privately owned.
  • Yan Wang – A Chinese tourist died when the jet boat she was a passenger in flipped at the confluence of the Shotover and Kawarau rivers. The company involved was ‘Kawarau Jet’. 7 other people were injured.
  • Sarah Katie Bond – A British tourist who died from her injuries during a quad bike trek run by ‘Waitomo Big Red’ 30km west of Waitomo Caves last August.
  • Emily Jordan – A British tourist who drowned whilst riverboarding with ‘Mad Dog River Boarding’ on the Kawarau river. The company was fined NZ$66,000. (US$46,000)
  • Six students and a teacher – Died in a canyoning exercise with the Sir Edmund Hilary Outdoor Centre, the centre was fined NZ$44,000.
  • Rosemary Berry, a semi retired Australian tourist broke an arm and shoulder whilst skiing and sustained other injuries after she fell over an metal track left in the snow at the Cardrona Ski Resort. The company subsequently tried to appeal against its conviction of fines and costs totalling almost $60,000.

High Numbers of Tourist Deaths in New Zealand

In the five years to September 2006 some 779 overseas residents died in New Zealand. In comparison, 95 tourist deaths occurred in Australia for the two year period between 2003 and 2005. A direct comparison with NZ and Australian figures are not available due to the lack of NZ government agencies collecting these statistics.” (source)

Of those people, 29 people died and at least 540 have been seriously injured in NZ adventure tourism activities over the 5 year period.(source)

See also:

NZ guiding industry failing to manage risks properly

Another Adventure tourism death results in prosecution – Tor Prestmo

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