Saturday, May 3, 2014

Steve Baron: A Travesty of Justice

Persecuted, victimised, abuse of government powers and a travesty of justice are the words that come to mind when you consider what Keith and Margaret Berryman have been through over the last 20 years—it’s a closed case, as far as Occupational Safety and Health (now WorkSafe NZ) and the government are concerned. It’s also a tragic event now long faded from the public’s memory. 

This was a case where the Berryman’s friend, beekeeper Ken Richards, died after plunging off a suspension bridge into a King Country river in 1994. The bridge was erected by the NZ Army on Crown land and funded by the Berryman’s.

Even though it is painfully obvious that OSH should never have been involved in the first place, within 6 months this newly established (at the time) government department, hell-bent on making a ground-breaking test case, laid charges against the Berryman’s arguing this was a workplace accident and that the Berryman’s were responsible for not maintaining the bridge leading to their farm—even though there was no autopsy performed on the body of Ken Richards and even though there was no scientific proof the bridge was defective and even though the Berryman’s did not employ Richards whom they simply allowed to use their farm to collect honey. 

Perhaps Richards had merely had a heart attack while crossing the bridge? Perhaps he was stung by a swarm of bees and lost control of the vehicle? Perhaps excessive speed was the cause? This we will never know because the Coroner never saw fit to perform a thorough investigation—what today would be standard procedure.
14 years after the event a judicial review by Justice Jill Mallon quashed the 1997 coroner’s report that blamed the Berryman’s—they finally felt justice had prevailed. Unfortunately that was not the case. 

Along the way there were cover-ups, secret army reports the NZ Army were adamant would be kept secret. The Berryman’s also lost their farm house in a suspicious fire that was reported to have been started in two locations inside the property. 

After numerous court cases, inquests and hearings, the long running saga did eventually lead to the Berryman’s receiving a grossly inadequate pay-out which they reluctantly accepted under duress— which went to repay a mortgage taken out mostly to repair the bridge on Crown land controlled by the Ruapehu District Council. 

Eventually the Berryman’s had no alternative but to reluctantly sell their farm when they had always intended to pass it on to their children, and at a time when farm prices were extremely depressed, not to mention straining their marriage to the limits and dramatically affecting their health after years of nerve racking torment with the axe of a jail term hanging over their heads.
At this point lesser people would have walked away, but not the Berryman’s who are now in their 80’s. The Berryman’s to this day are unwavering in their attempt to see that justice is not denied and that a fair and reasonable settlement is forthcoming. I suspect the Berryman’s will take their cause to their deathbeds before they would relent and walk away, simply accepting their lot.
What the Berryman’s now need is a gallant political ‘knight in shining armour’ to champion their cause, to highlight the injustices that have been stacked upon them and to ensure that political doors are opened for the Berryman’s to seek justice. As the saying goes; Justice delayed is justice denied. Step forward King Arthur and help these people… that’s the New Zealand way when Goliath has trampled all over David (or Keith & Margaret).
Steve Baron is a political scientist, Founder of Better Democracy NZ and co-editor of the book ‘People Power’.


paul scott said...

thank you so much Steve for bringing up this case. Paul Holmes to his everlasting credit dished it out brilliantly on a TV program. He ended with a savage anger against the institution which had ruined our
brother and sister.
It was an Oregon bridge, and Oregon does not last unless treated. This is to our shame

Myopic1 said...

A Travesty! The problem when the state turns its light on you they are committed to getting a result. They will & do run roughshod over the law as if they are immune from its application, sadly it seems they are.

Wayne said...

This is shocking and one wonders what can be done to help the Berryman's. I also wonder how many other similar cases have disappeared with their victims!
Are there political "Knights in White armour"?

Anonymous said...

Please don't aphostrophies plurals. Makes for a hard read.