Flowers and tributes outside Hillcrest Primary School (file image)
Six Hillcrest Primary School students were killed in the jumping castle tragedy. Image by Ethan James/AAP PHOTOS
  • crime, law and justice

Decision on Hillcrest criminal charges ‘in weeks’

Ethan James October 10, 2023

A decision on whether criminal charges will be laid over a jumping castle tragedy that killed six children in Tasmania is expected in coming weeks.

Zane Mellor, Peter Dodt, Jalailah Janyne-Maree Jones, Addison Stewart, Jye Sheehan and Chace Harrison died after the incident at Hillcrest Primary School in Devonport on December 16, 2021.

An inquest into their deaths remains on pause after the coroner on Tuesday lost a legal stoush over access to documents held by Tasmania’s workplace safety regulator.

WorkSafe Tasmania successfully argued providing the documents to the coroner could prejudice ongoing investigations and potential prosecutions.

The documents include interviews and written responses of owners and operators of the jumping castle, the school’s principal and a teacher, as well as an engineering report.

Under Tasmania’s workplace safety laws, there is a two-year window for commencing prosecutions, meaning the deadline is mid-December.

“Our investigators continue to work closely with the Director of Public Prosecutions,” WorkSafe Tasmania executive director Robyn Pearce said in a statement.

“I expect a decision will be made about whether anyone will be prosecuted in the coming weeks.”

Ms Pearce said WorkSafe Tasmania’s investigation into the incident was “unprecedented” in its nature and scope.

Supreme Court of Tasmania Justice Gregory Geason ruled the coroner wouldn’t be allowed to access the documents until the time limit for laying charges expired, or until the conclusion of any criminal proceedings.

“Disclosure to the coroner of the identified records has the potential to defeat the investigative/prosecutorial processes and functions which are underway,” he said.

“Non-disclosure of the records to the coroner, merely delays but does not defeat a coronial investigation.”

Justice Geason rejected the coroner’s assertion that some, or all, of the documents had lost confidential status.

He agreed disclosure of the documents to the coroner at this stage could contaminate evidence gathered for potential criminal prosecutions.

Three children also suffered serious injuries in the incident, which was described at a pre-inquest hearing as a “mini-tornado” wind event.

A public ceremony was held in Devonport in 2022 to mark the one-year anniversary.

Ms Pearce said her focus was on ensuring a fair and just outcome for the families of the victims and other people and businesses involved.