By Neil Ritchie

FEUDING Greymouth Petroleum owners have been back in the New Zealand High Court trying to finally settle their long-running judicial dispute that involves claims and counterclaims over alleged negligence and damages dating back to early this decade.

The latest saga played out in the High Court at Auckland during February with Greymouth Petroleum Holdings wanting about NZ$830,000 in damages from former chief operating officer and director John Sturgess, who has already been ordered by the court to sell his 14 per cent stake in the firm.

Mr Sturgess, widely known as “Sturgee” in the New Zealand oil and gas industry, first fell out with fellow directors and shareholders Mark Dunphy and Peter Masfen during 2010, with the pair alleging negligence by Mr Sturgess over many onshore Taranaki oilfield incidents and some in southern Chile.

They dismissed Mr Sturgess as chief operating officer in February 2011 amid allegations of “repeatedly failing to report appropriately, honestly and accurately to the executive chairman or the board in relation to drilling activities, issues and decisions” during 2010 and 2011.

They then launched High Court action during August 2011, seeking court orders that Mr Sturgess – and interests associated with him – sell their minority stake in the Greymouth group, as well as seeking damages for the now-former director’s alleged negligence.

Justice Murray Gilbert later found Mr Sturgess was responsible for the breakdown between directors and that his reporting to the board was “inadequate, evasive, and sometimes misleading”.

The judge also made an order, by consent, for Mr Sturgess to be replaced on the Greymouth Petroleum board.

He ordered Mr Sturgess – and interests associated with him – to sell their shares at fair market value. However, the judge found him negligent in only two instances and ordered the former director, and a management company associated with him, to pay damages to Greymouth Petroleum for some of the costs of these two operations.

Mr Sturgess had also sought a liquidation order for Greymouth Petroleum Holdings from the Court of Appeal, or that majority shareholders Messrs Dunphy and Masfen sell their combined 86% stake to him, or that the company be liquidated.

Now the parties are back in the High Court again arguing over damages, with Mr Sturgess indicating he is not liable for any damages. But it is understood that any damages payable would be offset by outstanding management fees Mr Sturgess won during the original trial.

Mr Sturgess and an associated family trust still hold their 14% stake in the firm, according to the Companies Office, while Messrs Dunphy and Masfen and their associated interests hold 52% and 32% respectively of Greymouth Petroleum Holdings.

Justice Gilbert reserved his latest decision and by late February had made no announcement regarding his findings.