TAFE fined $300,000 over horse-riding death at Dubbo campus

DUTY OF CARE: Sarah Waugh was doing a jillaroo course at TAFE. Photo: Supplied

DUTY OF CARE: Sarah Waugh was doing a jillaroo course at TAFE. Photo: Supplied

A JUDGE has convicted and fined TAFE NSW $300,000 over the death of a student in a horse-riding incident, but agreed with her family it remains ‘‘terribly unfair’’ the person ultimately culpable for the safety failings has yet to be named.

Sarah Waugh, 18, a former Newcastle Grammar School student, died in March 2009 when, during a jillaroo course at the Dubbo campus, she fell from a horse when it bolted.

It later emerged the thoroughbred horse, hired by TAFE Western Institute from a supplier, had competed in a race about six weeks before the fatal incident.

Five years on, TAFE admitted in the Sydney District Court on Monday its staff failed to check the history of the horses for use by beginner riders.

It pleaded guilty to breaching occupational health and safety laws, with WorkCover alleging its systems lacked ‘‘any kind of rigour’’ and an ‘‘institutional vacuum’’ had existed.

Miss Waugh’s father Mark told the court he felt betrayed  by authorities and the ‘‘inconsistencies and falsehoods’’ put forward, and feared the full failings that led to his daughter’s death would not be known.

‘‘Despite all of this, no person is yet to take responsibility for the myriad of mistakes that were made, and to compound it all it is still possible that an incident like that which killed Sarah could happen again,’’ he said.

Her mother Juliana read to the court a diary entry she had written to her daughter in which she said she felt she was “slowly dying of a broken heart.”

She said she would not be able to grieve properly until mandatory rules for the horse-riding industry were implemented.

Barrister Martin Shume apologised on behalf of TAFE.

He said it had since made changes that would prevent unsuitable horses being used and reviewed all its high-risk courses.

Judge James Curtis said grave fault lay with teachers Sara Falkiner and Geoff Bastian, who had the primary and immediate duty to Miss Waugh  to ensure she was safe.

Judge Curtis added it was not helpful for WorkCover to have referred to ‘‘the defendant’’ rather than identifying all the individuals within TAFE who were at fault.

TAFE’s then director of education delivery, who was not named on Monday, had also failed to enforce the safety checks and ensure the horse supply tender process identified and weeded out unsuitable animals.

‘‘It is, I think, terribly unfair that Mr Waugh, even at this stage, cannot identify whether to forgive, or not, a natural person who will take responsibility,’’ he said.

He fined TAFE $400,000, out of a potential maximum of $825,000, but reduced it to $300,000 for the guilty plea.