A New Zealand judge has thrown out the individual charges against the three brothers who owned Whakaari/White Island at the time of its deadly eruption in December 2019. The brothers were charged under New Zealand health and safety law with failing to exercise due diligence as company directors to know and manage White Island’s risk. The company Whakaari Management Limited (WML) – of which the three men were sole directors – remains a defendant in the trial. The men did not apply to have charges dismissed against the firm, which established deals with tour operators to bring visitors to the island.
The judge said that there was no evidence in this case of what happened behind the boardroom door at WML and that there was no proof of what the Buttles’ circumstances and responsibilities as directors were, or of what negotiations, discussions or disagreements happened between them. Investigators did not ask whether the directors were unified in their decision-making. WorkSafe – New Zealand’s labour inspectorate – could have sought individual information about the men’s actions – such as board meeting minutes – but did not, Judge Thomas said. The trial opened with claims by prosecutors that the island’s owners had put profits before the safety of tourists on the island.
Several other companies involved in facilitating the trip have already admitted to charges against them and will be sentenced after the current trial.