'Hellish': Pike River families in court

By Greymouth Star staff

Anna Osborne reads out her victim impact statement, supported by friend Tom Daly. Photo / Greymouth Star
Anna Osborne reads out her victim impact statement, supported by friend Tom Daly. Photo / Greymouth Star

The state wants Pike River Coal Ltd to pay massive fines and reparation of up to $125,000 for each of the 29 men who died in a horrific workplace explosion.

Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment lawyer Mark Zarifeh told a sentencing hearing at Greymouth District Court today the Pike River tragedy was the "employer-related disaster of a generation".

He submitted that Pike River Coal should pay cumulative fines at or near maximum levels for all nine charges it faces for breaching health and safety laws, as well as reparation of $60,000-125,000 for each bereaved family and substantial reparation for the two men who survived.

But Judge Jane Farish questioned whether the court could order fines and reparations from Pike River Coal if it was effectively not trading, and was an "empty shell" of a company.

"It seems morally unjust that this company, within months of this incident occurring, can shut up shop without doing anything to provide for these men's families," she said.

The judge found the company guilty in April and will deliver her sentence at 10am tomorrow morning.

Pike River family members shed tears for their loved ones today and expressed anger at Pike River Coal for not taking full responsibility for the November 19, 2010 tragedy.

Twenty victim impact statements were prepared, with several read aloud by family members in court.

Speaking first, Kath Monk, supported by her husband Bernie and daughter Olivia, talked about their grief and frustration, with a photograph of their son Michael placed against the podium.

"Michael's death was a shattering experience, and nothing can prepare you for this," she said.

"We lived a nightmare ... It's parents' instinctive duty to protect their children, and we were not able to do this."

Anna Osborne wept openly as she spoke of her late husband Milton.

"I find it immensely frustrating. I feel I have been dictated to, even in writing this statement," she said, referring to Pike River Coal.

She had ongoing health problems and did not know how she would cope without Milton's support. She broke down when talking about trying to bring home her husband's remains.

"I so desperately need closure."

She said Pike River management "pushed the miners and contractors to their deaths".

Tammie O'Neill said she and her late husband Peter were two weeks shy of their third anniversary at the time of the accident.

"I have difficulty sleeping ... wondering what he was thinking, did he suffer, and what went wrong."

Malcolm Sr and Jane Campbell wrote from Scotland that their son Malcolm was "the type of person who could walk into a room and make anyone smile".

Since the disaster, Malcolm Sr had difficulty doing his job in a quarry because he was traumatised by the sound of the blasts.

"Knowing he is on the other side of the world from us is hellish."

Several members of Allan Dixon's family wrote statements about the pain of losing him.

His brother Gordon said Pike River Coal "let us down with all the lies and false promises". Allan's partner Robin Henna said: "Anger is part of my life. I don't trust anything anymore."

Brenda Rackley wrote that her life crashed when she lost her partner John Hale, and she has since had difficulty holding her job and household together.

She said Mr Hale was concerned about safety conditions at the mine, calling conditions "chaos (and) unorganised" just days before the accident.

Kim Joynson, now living in Australia, said her partner Willie Joynson was also worried about mine safety and the lack of escape routes at Pike River.

Since then her only income was ACC payments in a New Zealand bank account, and she still had moments of uncontrollable crying and jolting awake at night.

Sam Mackie's mother Beth said "my life is a horror movie".

She lost her only child and needed medication to help her function.

"I dream of Sam when he was a baby and a toddler. I dream that he is missing or has died."

His father Peter Mackie wrote that he had a breakdown and spent five and a half weeks in hospital.

"I was on medication and that nearly killed me."

Kane Nieper's wife Chloe also had her statement read out: "Kalani (Kane's son) asks about daddy every single day. He says daddy is up in the sky on his surfboard - it's ripped out hearts out."

- NZ Herald

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