Safework SA and victim impact statements (Blog 5 of 7)


the ironback trees lies on the ground at cedar college northgate
The BFT that fell on me (Big Falling Tree)

A tree fell on me at Cedar College Northgate on September 11, 2009.

Seven blogs contain details of the accident (this is the fifth blog)

  1. Cedar College Northgate – sports day and tree
  2. Spinal Cord Injury and no visits from the school
  3. They said what? and withdrawing help
  4. Safework SA and victim impact statements
  5. Cedar College pleads guilty
  6. Relationship breakdown and suing Cedar College
  7. Forgiving Cedar College and the future

Safework SA prosection continues.

Once again, excessive pain prevented my attendance at the Safework SA prosecution. The school attempted to cry poor, with $4,000,000 in debt. However, the judge determined that the school was financially sound and could afford to pay a fine.  The reporter wrote, ‘Faced with a hefty workplace safety fine, Baptist school Cedar College pleaded both poverty and charity’. As with all Safework SA prosecution, the judgement was lengthy and includes the following statements by the defendant (Cedar College), as well as my comments and questions.

Cedar College statements and my comments – Part 1.

‘Safety has been the focus since its inception.’

Given the school almost killed me due to a lack of tree safety, this statement was far from honest. It was an attempt to lessen the financial penalty.

‘Contractors are engaged for high-risk work.’

Given tree 21 should have been removed, I would classify the tree as a high risk. Which employee within Cedar College should have engaged contractors to get the work done?

‘The defendant was not in a position to deal with all of the recommendations at once.’

A school providing education to 800 students should be able to make two phone calls to arrange tree maintenance and pay a few thousand dollars. Cedar College expects students to take responsibility for their actions.

‘The defendant did not fully comprehend the risk posed by the tree.’

How is it possible that Cedar College could not read or understand when they are in the business of teaching?

‘A future property development, being an extension of the car park, was intended for the area in which contained the tree.  The then business manager of the defendant had in mind that the tree could be removed at the time as part of the extension of the car park.’

Did Cedar College ignore the arborist’s recommendations to reduce costs, as they wanted the work on the area to be performed once, rather than twice?

‘The defendant is saddled with liability because of its careful attitude to tree safety.  If it had not taken the step of obtaining the arborist’s report, and therefore had never received the recommendation to remove the tree, then it would have been far less likely to have faced the charge that it now does.’

Cedar receives clear advice of the danger, the required action and the required timeframe.  They only removed the tree a day after the accident, and they state they have a ‘careful attitude to tree safety’. I thought the tree was removed to hide evidence from the SafeWork SA prosection, students and parents.

Cedar College statements and my comments – Part 2.

‘Activities were scheduled near the tree rather than directly under the tree.’

the tree fell into the playing area at cedar college which was mentioned at the safework sa prosecution
The area of the sporting event is clearly market, and it is under the tree. A lie?

I am thinking that Cedar could have put up a sign ‘Do not go underneath this tree.  We’ve been asked to remove it. However, putting up a sign is all we can do at the moment’. 

‘A discussion between the Business Manager and the Senior School Co-ordinator wherein the deteriorating weather conditions were noted.  As a result, they intended to tell the Principal they wanted to shift activities away from the trees.  They had gone to find the Principal when the accident occurred.’

There needed to be more urgency as it would have been quicker to call the Principal on his mobile. Or they could have made a decision themselves as matters of safety need quick thinking and actions.

‘The fact that the accident occurred at all is a matter of quite extreme bad luck.’

Bad luck didn’t extend to the circumstances of Tree 21. The school wouldn’t allow students to get away with excuses such as ‘The dog ate my homework’.

‘The defendant was minutes away from ordering the people in the vicinity away from the tree in question.’

Overlaying maps from the school shows the tree locations and the sports program - wish I had this for the safework sa prosecution
Overlaying two images provided by the school (the sports program and the location of trees)

They had 1567 and 640 days, respectively to resolve the maintenance of the tree, and they talked about the tree a few minutes before it hit me!

‘The defendant has responded with compassion to the families affected by the accident. All of the families were offered pastoral support and counselling. The Baptist Church community delivered meals and did gardening for one family. Children of the families have had ongoing access to pastoral care and counselling. These assertions may to some extent contradict statements made in the victim impact statements.’

I received no pastoral support nor counselling. The school suggested that the victim impact statements were inaccurate which equates to the school suggesting that the victim(s) were lying. How low can you go?

The complete Safework SA prosecution statement can be read here symons v cedar college. Or visit Safework SA here.

The Penalty.

The next step in the Safework SA prosecution was for the judge to hand down his judgement, including…

‘The defendant’s duty is to ensure so far as was reasonably practicable that persons coming on to its site are safe from injury and risks to health. It took steps to ascertain this information but failed to act appropriately.  Following the incident, the defendant prepared an outdoor activities policy and this was something that should have been in place prior to the incident rather than as a reaction to the incident.  The suggestion was made that the ‘unlucky’ circumstances resulting in the accident affect the objective seriousness of the offence and constitute a significant mitigating circumstance. I do not agree with this submission. The failure on the part of the defendant to act upon the recommendations of the arborist in relation to this particular tree given its location, coupled with the fact that it scheduled activities in and around the tree on the sports day does not constitute, in my view, ‘unlucky’ circumstances. I impose a notional penalty of $145,000. Allowing a discount of 25% for the early plea and all other relevant matters this results in an actual fine of $108,750.’

The school singled out two individuals in their statement, the Business Manager and the Senior School Coordinator.  Maybe these two people should have visited me in the hospital, at home, or anywhere else in the 3,266 days (and counting) since the accident. They probably kept their jobs too.

My lawyers were quick to mention that the admission of guilt by Cedar College during the Safework SA prosecution is not an admission of guilt in the Public Liability Lawsuit. If a student admits they haven’t done their homework with their home class teacher, and they are sent to the principal’s office, can they change their story when talking to the principal? I expect Cedar College would ask the student to tell the truth.

Front page news.

The Adelaide Advertiser placed a photo of me sitting outside my house on the front page. The story of the Safework SA prosecution continued inside the paper.

.front page news showing me in my wheelchair wearing a red shirt and track pants - photographed after the safework sa prosecution

cedar college is fined and john is photographed outside his house - the newspaper report occured after the safework sa prosecution

Cedar responds to parents about the fine.

cedar colllege board response to parents about the fineCedar College needed to write a letter to the parents, and I shared my thoughts.   

‘we cannot imagine the suffering and the hurt that this tragic event has brought into their lives’.  

There was no need to ‘imagine’ as the victim impact statements were read out during the court appearance and included in my letter to the school and church.  Imagination is required when you ignore the facts and avoid the victim.

‘at Cedar College, we desire to be a school community that is characterised by Christian love and care.’

Desire is good, but actions are better.

‘we have sought to actively support those people affected through pastoral care channels of the school’.  

The school continued to mislead parents and students about the care provided to the people affected.

‘Despite the significant nature of the fine, the school remains in a sound financial position’. 

The letter degraded further as Cedar College were boasting about its financial position.

During the first court hearing, the school stated they were in a poor financial situation, and months later, they were in a sound position. Choose whatever ‘truth’ best suits your needs. Why did I receive NO financial assistance? 

I received a Facebook message from the new senior pastor at the Church, and he wanted to meet face to face, and it was a kind gesture.  We didn’t have the chance to meet, as he de-friended me on Facebook. I take responsibility for this, as my continuing posts on Facebook about the school were angry but truthful.

Click here for the next blog.

Leave a Comment