Dismay at Icepak directors' pleas

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Tamahere residents expressed dismay Icepak Coolstores’ three directors are continuing to deny charges over last year’s fatal explosion with one resident describing their stance as “gutless”.

The comments came after the company yesterday admitted three charges of breaching health and safety regulations over the Tamahere coolstore fire, reported the Waikato Times.

However, its three directors Wayne Gratten, Iain Slight and Jan Van Eden maintained their not guilty pleas at a callover hearing at the Hamilton District Court yesterday. The explosion on April 5 killed Hamilton Senior Station Officer Derek Lovell and seriously injured seven others. Each director faces one charge relating to health and safety in employment laws.

Tamahere resident Arnold Koppens told the Waikato Times that yesterday’s development had dismayed the community and denied them closure.

“I actually think the decision by the directors is gutless. In my mind the company and its directors are one and the same thing. With them continuing to plead not guilty, it means there is no closure for us and that’s the sad thing about it.”

Mr Koppens, who lives opposite the former coolstore site, said Tamahere people just wanted an end to the matter.

“People are still hurting over the fire and this is just treating them like dirt.”

Fellow resident and Tamahere Forum blogger Philippa Stevenson said she was concerned by the directors’ stance.

“I’m gratified that there has been some acknowledgement of culpability [by the company] but I’m at a loss by the directors’ pleas. The company may be a legal entity but it’s not a walking, talking entity. I can’t in my mind differentiate between the company and its directors.

“It’s a very small company with only a few people in it. It’s frustrating from the point of view that we now seem to be heading into murky legal territory,” Ms Stevenson said. “People just want justice for the firemen and for the people who have had their lives changed.”

Tauranga-based refrigeration company, Mobile Refrigeration Specialists, and its director Warren Cook, also maintained their not guilty pleas to a total of three charges of breaching health and safety employment regulations.

However, defence counsel Marc Corlett told the court that a change of plea was likely and he was continuing to work with the Labour Department over a summary of facts. A spokesperson for the department declined to comment on yesterday’s proceedings.

Judge David Wilson, QC, adjourned matters to a callover sitting next month, with a date yet to be set for a defended hearing.

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