'Derogatory' attacks see Whittall can offer to meet Pike families

By Patrice Dougan, Tui Bromley of the Greymouth Star

Fomer Pike River Coal boss Peter Whittall Ross Setford. Photo / Ross Setford
Fomer Pike River Coal boss Peter Whittall Ross Setford. Photo / Ross Setford

Former Pike River Coal boss Peter Whittall will not meet with the families of the 29 men who died in the 2010 disaster after receiving "inappropriate and derogatory" comments.

Mr Whittall had offered to meet with the families and two survivors of the mine explosion after all 12 charges against him were dropped by the Crown last week.

However, public comments by the families refusing to meet with him, and a threat of private prosecution by the man who took Act leader John banks to court over fraudulent election returns, have forced him to withdraw his offer.

Mr Whittall had been advised by his lawyers, Stuart Grieve QC and Stacey Shortall, to cancel the meeting, the pair said in a statement released this morning.

They said Mr Whittall had made the offer "sincerely and in good faith" in the hope of achieving some reconciliation.

"Regrettably Mr Whittall's offer has been met with attacks from many quarters, some of which have been quite inappropriate and derogatory," the statement said.

"Not only was the offer publicly rejected by family spokespeople but it was also met with threats of private prosecution and further litigation.

"In these circumstances, we have advised Mr Whittall that he should not meet with any families at this time.

"Mr Whittall is disappointed but has accepted our advice."

The lawyers said there had been reports that some of the Pike River families did want to meet with their client, but the threat of litigation "would severely constrain what he would otherwise wish to say".

"Depending on the circumstances, Mr Whittall may be prepared to consider a meeting at a later stage."

The three former directors who offered to accompany Mr Whittall to the meeting support Mr Whittall's decision, the statement said.

The decision will be no disappointment to the "vast majority" of the families.

Spokesman for some of the families, Bernie Monk, had vowed that he would "never" meet Mr Whittall, but secretary for the group Carol Rose spent this week contacting the families individually in an effort to arrange a meeting.

Mrs Rose said today "very few" had accepted the invitation and the "vast majority" were adamant they did not want to meet him.

She said that the logistics of setting up a meeting would have been difficult anyway with a lot of the families living out of Greymouth and having to arrange travel back for it.

Mr Whittall was mine general manager at Greymouth during the development of the mine and chief executive at the time it exploded, claiming the lives of all but two of the workers underground at the time.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise spent about two years building a case against him and he was formally charged in October last year with 12 counts of failing to protect workers from harm relating to methane, strata and ventilation management, and failing to mitigate explosion risk and impact.

However, last week all charges were dropped in the Christchurch District Court.

In his absence, Mr Whittall's legal team advised the court that he would, on behalf of the directors and officers of the former Pike River Coal Company, pay $110,000 to each of the 29 families who lost men in the mine, as well as to the two survivors.

Through his lawyers, he also expressed a desire to meet the families.

- APNZ

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