Western Power ‘won’t be prosecuted’ over Toodyay fire

Western Power ‘won’t be prosecuted’ over Toodyay fire

15 April 2011

published by news.maars.net

Australia — WA’S energy watchdog EnergySafety will not prosecute Western Power over the December 2009 Toodyay bushfire which destroyed 38 homes.

Confirming it’s decision today, the Director of Energy Safety Ken Bowron said there is insufficient evidence to establish a case that Western Power had contravened the Electricity (Supply Standards & System Safety) Regulations 2001.

An EnergySafety report blamed the fire on a fallen power pole, which ignited barley stubble.

“The physical evidence essential to prove such a contravention was consumed in the fire”, Mr Bowron said.

“EnergySafety’s final report of 10 August 2010 gives our opinion about how the fire started but, on legal advice, is not of itself a prima facie case against Western Power under the Regulations.”

Mr Bowron said EnergySafety had continued its investigations following release of the final report but these were inconclusive, given the absence of critical physical evidence.

The decision comes on the day that the Supreme Court has opened the hearing by 97 Toodyay residents and the local shire against Western Power over the devastating 2009 fire.

Civil compensation case opens in Toodyay

The WA Supreme Court today moves to Toodyay for the start of a civil action by 97 residents seeking compensation after the devastating 2009 bushfires.

WA Chief Justice Wayne Martin has taken the unprecedented step of moving the Supreme Court hearing for victims suing over the Toodyay bushfire to the fire-ravaged town.

He is also allowing the media to film the “strategic conference” inside Toodyay Memorial Hall this morning because of the public interest the case has generated.

It is understood to be the first time the Supreme Court has ventured outside its normal WA circuit.

The Shire of Toodyay and 97 residents are claiming damages from Western Power over the fire in December 2009. They will be invited to attend along with counsel for both parties and members of the public.

It will be a proper courtroom set-up and is expected to last two hours. Justice Martin will preside over the hearing, which is aimed at planning how the case will proceed.

“Under the new process of strategic conferences we encourage parties to attend and participate in decisions made as to the future course of their litigation,” he said.

“In this case there are a large number of plaintiffs, most residing in Toodyay, so it seemed fairer to take the hearing to them rather than require them to travel to Perth.”

The tough stance of banning cameras from filming and recording in courtrooms has also been lifted.

“The media have been allowed access consistent with the court’s general policy of greater media access to proceedings and because of public interest in issues raised by the case,” Justice Martin said.

It has also been revealed that the Toodyay Race Club has joined the class action and is suing Western Power for more than $500,000 in damages and loss of income.

The course was so badly damaged by the fire it could not host its one and only event for the year, the 2010 Toodyay Picnic Race Day in October.

Toodyay Race Club chairman John Prater said the losses from its annual meeting, combined with property damage, would run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We couldn’t race last year and that is the event we make a good cop out of,” he said. “The track reticulation is shot, along with railings and piping carrying water more than a kilometre to the course from destroyed electric bore pumps.”

Mr Prater said it was “a toss of the coin” if the event would take place this year, but the aim was to race on October 8.

Insurers for the Shire of Toodyay lodged a writ with the Supreme Court on March 29 to recover costs paid out for council- owned property destroyed in the blaze.

The bushfire incinerated 38 homes, damaged another 200 dwellings and burnt 2900ha of land.

An EnergySafety report blamed the fire on a fallen power pole, which ignited barley stubble.

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