Three charged over Pike tragedy

By Jarrod Booker

The entrance to the Pike River Coal mine. Photo / APN
The entrance to the Pike River Coal mine. Photo / APN

Speculation is rife over who has been charged with negligence at the Pike River mine as three unidentified parties face prosecution following the explosions that killed 29 workers.

The Department of Labour yesterday announced 25 charges alleging health and safety failures, with each charge carrying a maximum penalty of a $250,000 fine. The charges were welcomed by some of the victims' families, but for others it is simply not enough.

"No matter what amount of money these people [might face in fines], it doesn't bring my son back," said Dean Dunbar, who lost Joseph, 17, in the mine.

Several investigations are under way into the tragedy. They have all included the company running the mine, Pike River Coal, the mine manager, Doug White, and the former chief executive Peter Whittall.

Mr Whittall, who worked as a miner for 30 years, took over as chief executive in October last year and became the public face of the disaster, fronting the daily press conferences and meetings with the families.

Before joining Pike River, Mr White had worked as deputy chief inspector of mines in Queensland.

The department said it was unable to name the three parties charged as they either had existing court suppression orders in their favour, or the right to apply for name suppression. Identifying the specific charges could also lead to identification of the three parties, it said.

"The department recognises there is high public interest in who has been charged and is taking urgent steps to ensure that, where possible, names of the parties charged can be published."

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said he was totally against any suppression. There was already a "huge amount" of speculation about who was charged, and people not involved were getting caught up in it, he said.

Mr Dunbar said the suppression was "just another pain" to deal with.

Joel Dixon, who lost his father, Allan, in the mine, said the "horse has already bolted" over the tragedy, but it was still important to see justice served.

"They have got to do something with them don't they? I don't feel any anger. I would like to see people that were doing wrong brought to justice, but it's still not really going to change anything."

Jo Palmer, who lost her brother Brendon, said she was happy to see charges, but also felt a sense of sadness that the whole saga had to lead to this.

Knowing there might have been negligence made it harder than if it had simply been a "freak accident".

Mr Kokshoorn said it was important to have accountability.

The announcement of the charges comes just over a week from the first anniversary of the initial explosion. A royal commission of inquiry into the tragedy is to restart on Monday, with the latest phase exploring what happened at the mine last November.

Lawyer for the victims' families, Nicholas Davidson, QC, said, "We hope [the charges] won't actually impede the commission and its work. We are determined the process will continue."

- NZ Herald

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