Whakaari trial: 'You can't mend a mother's broken heart'

Judge Evangelos Thomas was hearing the last of the victim impact statements this week. Photo: RNZ
Judge Evangelos Thomas was hearing the last of the victim impact statements this week. Photo: RNZ

Victims of the Whakaari / White Island disaster returned to the Auckland District Court to confront the five tourism companies found guilty in last year's trial.

Whakaari Management Limited, White Island Tours, Volcanic Air Safaris, Aerius and Kahu NZ are in the court facing fines of up to $1.5 million each and reparations.

GNS Science, the sixth guilty party, will be sentenced separately later this week.

Victims and their family members addressed the court today with the last of their impact statements before the hearing moved into its next phase.

Julie Richards and her 20-year-old daughter Jess were two of the 22 people who died in the eruption on December 9 in 2019.

A statement from Julie Richards' sister Barbara Whitehead was read by WorkSafe investigator Casey Broad.

Whitehead described the moment she discovered her sister and niece had died.

"I went to Auckland with my brother, David, and we had DNA tests done," she said.

"We were told Jess was in the morgue in Auckland but Julie hadn't been found."

Whitehead criticised media reporting of the event.

"In the early days the press were awful, even turning up in our driveway," she said.

"My parents were elderly at the time and we tried to shield them from some of the details.

"At one point we did give [the media] photos of Jess and Julie and this was a mistake. When the photos were shown on television my mother saw them and said 'look, there they are... they're fine.'"

Hayden Marshall-Inman. Photo: RNZ
Hayden Marshall-Inman. Photo: RNZ

Avey Woods, the mother of tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman who died in the disaster, was the last victim to present a statement.

"When Hayds died on White Island, a piece of me died. You cannot mend a mother's broken heart," she began.

"He nurtured and he was a confidant to his niece, nephews, godchildren... he taught them so much and he still had so much to give."

Woods performed a poem for the court.

"I have been crying today, through my memories," she said.

"As I reach for my son, you look, you say: distraction is a cure for a mum... you do not see this broken heart of mine."

Judge Evangelos Thomas was visibly emotional as Woods concluded her statement.

"Ladies and gentlemen, to all of you who have given so much of yourselves over the last two days... thank you. I'm in awe of that, thank you," he said. 

He then called on the audience to stand for a moment of silence before adjourning.

The hearing will continue with a submission from WorkSafe.