Victims of a fatal gas
explosion have given harrowing accounts of the tragedy's
aftermath during an emotionally-charged sentencing at
Auckland District Court.
Council-owned Watercare Services Ltd is being sentenced today
on two charges laid under the Health and Safety in Employment
Act in relation to the June 4, 2011 explosion in a waterpipe
Leaking gas is thought to have ignited due to a contractor
using a blowtorch. The explosion that ripped through the
underground pipe killed Watercare employee Philomen Gulland,
48. Engineer Ian Winson suffered horrific injuries and later
had both his legs amputated above the knee. Several other
people were also injured in the blast.
Delivering her victim impact statement to the court this
morning, Ms Gulland's 80-year-old mother Margaret Penner
spoke of the terrible grief at losing her beloved daughter.
"I was very close to her. I was her confidante as well as her
"I'll never be able to replace or forget all the joy and
laughter we shared. As a mother, the deep love we shared is
still there. This forms a deep part of my loss."
She recounted the phone call her husband received at their
Canadian home two years ago informing the family of Ms
Gulland's violent death.
"I was stunned, physically numb and not able to function."
Watercare paid for her to travel to New Zealand for her
daughter's marae-based funeral. She was presented with a
"I have not been able to take it off."
Recounting her daughter's fatal injuries, she said Ms Gulland
lost several limbs in the explosion and the back of her head
was smashed in.
"She was killed instantly. My understanding was the blast
from the explosion killed her."
Ms Gulland's mother was later admitted to hospital suffering
dehydration due to stress.
Her husband had not be able to accept his daughter's death
and the family still missed Ms Gulland terribly. Ms Gulland's
own son's life had been "torn apart" and he had received
counselling to deal with his grief and anxiety. Ms Gulland's
daughter had also received counselling and been hospitalised
with chest pains after her mother died.
Another victim, James Millard, was injured in the explosion.
He told the court the experience had changed his life and the
lives of his family with devastating effect.
Mr Millard was no longer able to do the things he enjoyed and
he was angry "at the person I have become".
"I feel like life is a sentence for me and for the other
victims every single day. I feel guilty for living.
"I have a t-shirt I was wearing on the 4th of June, 2011. It
still has the blood stains of victims, including my own. One
day I will take it to a burial place up north and walk with
Mr Millard said mistakes were made by the company and the
court should send a clear message that "all workers should be
safe in the workplace and that people's lives come first".
"The defendant needs to take responsibility for what's
happened and the pain and anguish this has caused me and
Watercare has pleaded guilty to the charges and will be
sentenced this afternoon by Judge Rob Ronayne, who has
indicated financial penalties and reparation orders are
Contractor Canadian Pacific Limited (CPL) is defending two
charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act in
relation to the blast.
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment prosecutor
Shona Carr had earlier told the court CPL employees who were
carrying out work on an air valve using a gas torch probably
provided the ignition for the fatal explosion.
It ignited natural gas from the Vector gas distribution
network which had been drawn into a watermain through its air
valves while it was being drained.
- By Lane Nichols of