Former Pike boss' sympathy 'hollow'

By Jarrod Booker

Former Pike River coal chief executive Gordon Ward. Photo / APN
Former Pike River coal chief executive Gordon Ward. Photo / APN

Families of the 29 Pike River mine victims say the public expression of sympathy from former mine boss Gordon Ward is "hollow".

Mr Ward has broken his silence on the fatal explosions in November 2010, after refusing to front up to a Royal Commission of Inquiry into what happened - but the families say they will not accept his "excuses".

An influential figure at the mine for 12 years, Mr Ward was chief executive up until six weeks before the first explosion. When tracked down on the Gold Coast by a television documentary crew, he told TVNZ's Sunday programme he had cooperated with authorities investigating if there was any criminal negligence, but refused to comment on the commission.

He added: "I think it is an awful tragedy, and no one has been unaffected by it who has been involved with the company. It has had a tremendous toll on everybody".

"Words can't express the deepest sympathies I have for the families."

Families' spokesman Bernie Monk, who lost his son Michael, 23, told the Herald Mr Ward's message was a hollow one.

"The only way he can ever apologise to the families is (to) be cooperative and front up to the commission, and I think he owes it to mining, and to Pike River, and to the families," Mr Monk said.

"No-one has actually admitted any wrong-doing in this whole incident. And that's what has been so frustrating."

"What I would like to say to Mr Ward is if his son, or father, or whatever was killed down that mine, what would he think....if I did that to him? He's got to put himself in our position - and I don't think he's done that."

The commission of inquiry has completed its public hearings, but Mr Monk said the families were still gathering information - and therefore Mr Ward could also still contribute. The commission is required to report to the Governor General by September 28.

The Department of Labour is prosecuting Mr Ward's successor Peter Whittall, Pike River Coal and VLI Drilling over alleged health and safety failings at the mine. Police are still to announce if they will lay charges.

Mr Ward told Sunday: "I've cooperated fully with the Department of Labour and the police in all their inquiries that they've done to date, I've been interviewed by them and they have not pressed any charges against me".

In reference to the charges brought by the Department of Labour, he said: "There is a court hearing that is about to kick off, that is going to be a very substantive review of all of the issues at the royal commission has covered, to an extent, and the entire circumstances leading up to the disaster will no doubt be explored".

The commission says as long as Mr Ward remains outside New Zealand he cannot be compelled to give evidence.

- NZ Herald

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