Formal apology and payment to George Nepata

Cabinet has approved a formal apology and ex gratia payment to former soldier George Nepata, announced Defence Minister Ron Mark.

This payment is to recognise the New Zealand Defence Force’s failure to provide Mr Nepata with a safe system of work in April 1989 when, as a result of an accident during a training exercise, he was rendered a tetraplegic.

“This is an issue I’ve continued to raise over the past 20 years - I’ve felt strongly that the Government has had a moral obligation to address this and I’m pleased there has finally been a resolution,” said Ron Mark. 

“I formally apologise to George Nepata on behalf of the Government and the New Zealand Defence Force for the New Zealand Defence Force’s failure to provide him with a safe system of work and the 31 years he has struggled with his tetraplegia.

“This apology reflects the fact that as a junior soldier George was obliged to obey the commands of his superiors during the exercise and had no opportunity to challenge the conduct of the exercise. The apology also acknowledges the efforts and costs associated with his petitions to Parliament, but most importantly it recognises the burden and struggles that George, his wife Kim and his wider whanau and family have borne since the accident.

“The approval of this proposal may provide some level of closure for George Nepata and his whanau.

“I note that the issue of setting a precedent has been a constant factor when this case has been considered over the years, by successive Governments. However, the basis of this decision is that the Government has a moral obligation not a legal one, and therefore it stands on its own merits.

“If other cases arise then they will need to be considered on their own merits.

“Finally, I would like to express my deep admiration for George Nepata and his whanau and how he has responded to the circumstances in which he has been placed. The injury he suffered was totally avoidable and unnecessary. I hope this apology from the Government and New Zealand Defence Force, and the ex gratia payment, will help George to continue to make the best of the situation, as he has done for so long,” said Ron Mark.

The payment will be made from within existing Defence Force baselines and no additional funding will be required.

Note:

The amount of the payment takes into consideration: 

  • Reimbursement of legal and associated costs in taking cases to Parliament and court; 
  • Representative damages based on an average payment in 1989 and adjusted to include interest 
  • Theoretical interest on George’s lost earnings 
  • A payment to acknowledge the lost personal opportunities to George’s immediate family 
  • A payment that recognises parental and whanau support provided during George’s more difficult periods.

The ex gratia payment total will not be made public at the request of the Nepata family.