Anger at Solid Energy’s decision to abandon recovery plans as focus turns to preserving mine as memorial

Families of 29 dead mine workers have finally conceded that the men's bodies will never be recovered from the Pike River coal mine, but a handful of relatives are refusing to accept that the mine will remain a tomb.

After four years and repeated delays to re-entry attempts at the mine near Greymouth, Solid Energy yesterday abandoned plans to access the tunnel where the bodies lie.

The families issued a joint statement saying that they did not accept Solid Energy's decision, but they were now looking to the future.

They would work with the Government to make sure no further mining occurred and the site was preserved as a memorial.

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The families' lawyer Colin Smith said: "How much longer do you submit families to that sort of torture? It is a positive way forward. And by God, we need some positives."

Families spokesman Bernie Monk said: "I want to bring my guys home. But the likelihood is pretty minimal now. It's my life, I've got to get on with my life."

But some of those affected could not accept that their loved ones would never get a proper burial.

Anna Osborne, who lost her partner Milton in the disaster, said: "It's not where I want my husband to be. They deserve to be buried in a place of our choice. It's unjust and so unfair. We've been slapped in the face time and time again."

Despite the families' belief that recovery is possible, any potential for re-entry is now extinguished. Solid Energy has surrendered its mining licence and the Government plans to transfer Pike River into conservation land and create a memorial to the miners.

But the families' search for accountability may not be over yet.

While Prime Minister John Key all but ruled out any further criminal prosecutions, he confirmed that Crown Law was looking at the possibility of a civil case.

He did not elaborate on who legal action might focus on, only saying that Crown Law would look at the potential for proceedings against "a variety of parties".

Pike River Coal directors, the Department of Labour and others were found to be at fault by a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the disaster.

If Crown Law found there were grounds to proceed with a civil case, potential litigants could include the families or shareholders.

Any proceedings would be funded by the taxpayer, Mr Key confirmed.

West Coast-based Green MP Kevin Hague said the talk of a civil case "appeared to be another illusory promise" from Government "which will evaporate into nothing as usual".

He said the possibility of re-entry had diminished the moment the Government handed over responsibility to the commercial sector.

additional reporting: Greymouth Star