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Gina Rinehart's S. Kidman and Co employees death 'swept under the carpet'

ABC News logo ABC News 15/05/2017

Matthew Arena's mother said her life had been irreversibly changed by his death. © Supplied Matthew Arena's mother said her life had been irreversibly changed by his death. The family of a young man killed while working for one of Australia's largest beef producers has accused the company of trying to "sweep his death under the carpet".

Pastoral company S. Kidman and Co pleaded guilty to failing to comply with its health and safety duties, more than five years after Matthew Arena died when a 353-kilogram pole fell on him.

The 9-metre metal pole was being lifted by a faulty bobcat on Helen Springs Station north of Tennant Creek in 2012, when the pole fell on top of Mr Arena, rupturing his stomach.

The company had tried to block the prosecution of the matter in the Supreme Court on technical grounds — taking it as far as the Court of Appeal — but failed.

Today S. Kidman and Co, which is now majority-owned by Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting after last year's sale, argued in Darwin Local Court it should receive some credit for its guilty plea.

The arguments were made in front of Mr Arena's mother, Helen Booth, who travelled from Victoria to hear the company admit its guilt.

In a victim impact statement she told the court how the company's actions in dragging the case on had made things worse.

"[His death] haunts me every day, and you are to blame for that," her statement read.

"You tried to sweep my son's death under the carpet. "You were told not to use the [bobcat] that was defective, but you went ahead and used it."

Ms Booth's statement said getting "a knock on the door" at 4:28am faced with news her son had died the day before was something she would never wish on her "worst enemy".

The court heard Ms Booth had not slept a full night since her son's death and found it difficult to visit friends who had children.

Her statement said her other son could not bear to come to court to relive the loss.

"Our lives will never be the same again," her statement read. "You need to be punished with the full force of the law so this can never happen to another young person."

New owners 'deeply regret' incident

The company's lawyer Miles Crawley told the court the five-year delay was in part caused by the speed of the prosecution in pursuing charges.

Charges were filed only after a coronial investigation, at the request of the family.

But Mr Crawley also told the court a change in the company's ownership in December changed the approach to the court case as well.

He said the new owners wanted to convey their condolences to Mr Arena's family and that they "deeply regretted" the incident.

Mr Crawley said staff had since undergone more health and safety training, and infrastructure and technology upgrades had improved safety more generally.

He described the events leading up to the death as "freakish" and that the pole had fallen in a such way that it resulted in a death that was not easily foreseeable.

But the company admitted guilt to the charge because it allowed use of the bobcat, which was not in working order, and it failed to ensure staff were carrying out work in the same manner that had been done previously.

Local court Chief Judge John Lowndes will sentence the company tomorrow.

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