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Human face of NZ forestry safety

Maryanne Butler-Finlay holds Charles Finlay’s ashes as she and her family remember workers killed in forestry accidents. When Maryanne Butler-Finlay was told there would be no prosecution in the wake of her husband’s forestry death, she says “that’s when I decided to fight.” Source:

Ms Butler-Finlay was giving evidence at the Coroners inquest into the death of Charles Finlay, a hearing that veered from the confrontational to the emotional.

Finlay died on July 19, 2013, after being struck by a log at a forestry site near Kinleith.

Ms Butler-Finlay told the hearing the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, the Government body responsible for launching prosecutions before the creation of Worksafe, initially said they would prosecute Finlay’s employer M&A Cross, then opted not to.

“I felt defeated. I thought Charles would be held responsible. That was when I decided to fight,” she said.

M&A Cross was eventually found guilty of safety breaches after the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) launched a private prosecution in 2015.

The decision not to prosecute was raised by Ms Butler-Finlay’s lawyer Simon Meikle during a tense exchange when questioning Jason Gibson, the Worksafe investigator in charge of the case.

“Can you explain why M&A pleaded guilty to a charge you said there wasn’t enough evidence for,” Mr Meikle said.

“I’ve read the summary of facts and in my view the case was quite weak,” Mr Gibson said.

“You were wrong weren’t you,” said Mr Meikle.

“I’m not going to answer that,” said Mr Gibson.

When asked whether Worksafe sought legal advice, Gibson said it had, but nothing was in writing.

“There’s legal advice and there’s legal advice,” he said.

That prompted Coroner Wallace Bain to question Mr Gibson himself.
“But no record of it anywhere? I find that odd.”

Mr Meikle also criticised Mr Gibson for what he described as an inadequate investigation into Finlay’s death.

“I don’t wish to comment,” he said.

Speaking while holding her husbands ashes, Ms Butler-Finlay also told the hearing about the impact forestry work had on her husband.

“He felt like a part-time dad. He aged. My husband turned into an old man in front of my eyes.”

She also said it still hurt that news of Charles’ death was on social media before she was told.

“It still grates me Charles lay in the bush for three hours. It was on Facebook before I was told,” she said. “This is the last thing I can do for you babe. I can continue to fight for safety in the forestry industry, an industry you loved.”

After speaking a video montage was played to the court of photos of Charles and family, prompting tears from Ms Butler-Finlay and Whanau members at the hearing.

Mr Bain paid tribute to the family and their efforts to campaign for forestry safety, and promised a number of recommendations would be made, hinting at some during the hearing.

“If there’d been no operation of machinery because he [Charles] couldn’t be seen, he’d still be here,” he said.

Mr Bain also said a protocol was required around informing family members of forestry deaths.

The CTU also tabled a number of recommendations it was seeking from the Coroner, including regulating forestry work hours and requiring work to stop if an employee’s location is unclear.

“This morning I woke up today and felt a lot better, a lot calmer,” said Ms Butler-Finlay after the inquest. “This is the last thing, we couldn’t do anymore for Charles.”