Fire plea reversal expected

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Mobile Refrigeration Specialists, a Tauranga-based refrigeration company facing charges over last year’s fatal Tamahere fire, is expected to reverse its not guilty pleas when it appears in court next month.

Mobile Refrigeration Specialists and its director Warren Cook last month pleaded not guilty to a total of three charges, but at a status hearing in the Hamilton District Court yesterday counsel Marc Corlett, of Auckland, said they were close to reaching an agreement with the Labour Department.

He expected a decision to be made by next month’s callover.

Meanwhile, a Hamilton District Court judge yesterday told Icepak Coolstores’ counsel to stop wasting the court’s time and move on with proceedings the company and its directors face over last year’s Icepak Coolstore explosion, reported the Waikato Times.

He also said there was a clear failure by Icepak in not protecting the responding firefighters.

Icepak Coolstores last month pleaded not guilty to three charges of breaching health and safety employment regulations. Its directors, Wayne Grattan, Iain Slight and Jan Van Eden, each also pleaded not guilty to one charge of the same.

Injured Hamilton firefighter Merv Neil, with his wife, Alice, and son Paul, attended the status hearing, held in Hamilton District Court yesterday, in which Icepak counsel Simon Menzies asked repeatedly for Judge Phillip Connell to adjourn the hearing for another month so his client could continue deliberations with the Labour Department.

Judge Connell said: “The event was in April a year ago … from November to April, to my way of thinking, has been ample time to have canvassed the sort of issues that the court would look at at a status hearing.

“Again, I am not prepared to adjourn the status hearing. I will simply set a date for a defended hearing.”

However, after a further plea by Mr Menzies after a callover date of May 13 was set, Judge Connell allowed an application to be filed, but signalled it could be a waste of time.

“That opportunity has been given and with the indication of not guilty pleas, I will give leave to make your application, but I don’t understand why we couldn’t have already reached that position.

“When you look at the people who have suffered the consequences of all of this, they need to have matters brought to an end.”

Judge Connell said there was a clear failure by Icepak in not protecting the responding firefighters. “In terms of the law there was certainly a duty owed by the company, sub-contractors and the directors to look after the safety of such people as fire personnel.

“There are all the victims, they have been in the press in recent times, and if there’s anything you get (from reading that) it is the need for some closure … I don’t like the word but … every effort should be made to progress this and there has been ample time to consider the matters that you have been talking about.”

Icepak’s directors have been excused from attending next month’s callover, when a date for the defended hearing would be set, possibly in August.

Outside the court, Mr Neil said Icepak appeared to be trying to delay proceedings.

“It’s pretty much what we expected. They’re obviously trying to put it off for as long as they could. The judge wants to make it as painless as possible, but it’s just them dragging it on and on.”

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