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Defence Force in court, charged over death of Lance Corporal Nicholas Kahotea

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The Defence Force has been taken to court after the death of Lance Corporal Nicholas Kahotea, who was fatally injured in a training accident.

But the court heard the existence of classified information relating to special forces training might mean the prosecution doesn’t go ahead.

The New Zealand Special Air Service soldier, 35, died on May 8 last year at a military facility near Papakura.

Police and the Coroner investigated before WorkSafe this year filed charges against the NZDF.

The matter was heard for the first time at Papakura District Court today and lawyers for WorkSafe and the Defence Force appeared before Judge June Jelas.

The hearing was previously adjourned four times.

And the court heard the prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act might still not proceed in the same court.

The court heard the NZDF had provided WorkSafe with some recent information the workplace safety agency sought.

The court heard both parties had engaged external lawyers.

A declaration related to relevant training activities would determine whether the prosecution could go ahead.

The court also heard the matter might have to be escalated to the High Court for a judicial review.

Judge Jelas said it was important the prosecution progressed to some extent.

She said it would have been preferable for the Defence Force to enter a plea today.

“I’m not prepared to further adjourn without some progress.”

A deemed not guilty plea was entered and the matter adjourned to a case review hearing on March 10.

Kahotea is believed to have jumped from a helicopter during a counter-terrorism exercise at the New Zealand Special Operations Forces (NZSOF) training centre in Ardmore.

The Battle Training Facility in the South Auckland suburb could be used for live firing and scenario-based training.

In a public notice after his death, Kahotea’s loved ones called him a treasured son, brother, uncle, cousin, partner and father, and described him as a dedicated professional.

According to a briefing to the incoming Minister of Defence, the only other recent WorkSafe prosecution against the NZDF related to the death of Able Diver Zachary Yarwood.

In that matter, the Defence Force was fined $288,000 on October 16 this year.

The Navy able communications technician became unresponsive during a training exercise in March last year and later died in hospital. He was 23.

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