Ex-Pike River boss still not working

Peter Whittall. Photo / NZPA, The Press
Peter Whittall. Photo / NZPA, The Press

The former Pike River Coal boss who has set up a mining consultancy business, which includes advising on mine safety, has not started working, his lawyer says.

Peter Whittall was the chief executive of Pike River Coal when explosions in the West Coast mine killed 29 men in November 2010.

The Department of Labour has laid 12 charges against him alleging he failed to take all practical steps to ensure the safety of company workers.

Charges have also been laid against Pike River Coal Ltd and VLI Drilling Pty Ltd.

Mr Whittall, who finished in his role as chief executive last November, denies the charges against him.

He has now founded and registered Peter Whittall and Associates.

The Companies Office website lists Mr Whittall, based in Wellington, as the only director of the limited liability company.

Mr Whittall's profile on business networking website Linked In lists him as consulting "across a broad range of technical, safety, commercial and management issues primarily within the minerals industry''.

Mr Whittall's lawyer Stacey Shortall today said his newly registered business was "not currently active''.

"The company's...not currently providing any consultancy services on anything including safety.

"I don't think he's starting a business, I think that's where there's perhaps some misunderstanding, he has registered a company, that's all he's done at this point.''

His focus was currently on the Royal Commission process and vigorously defending the Department of Labour charges, she said.

By registering the business he had created a vehicle for any future work to be put through, she said.

She did not think registering the business would conflict with the Royal Commission inquiry or the Department of Labour charges.

Mr Whittall has been advised by Ms Shortall to not make any public statements.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn yesterday said Mr Whittall's decision to set up the company was "extremely insensitive at this stage''.

"There was disaster under his watch. I just don't think Peter's making the right call here. He needs to think about this hard and he's only digging a bigger hole for himself, quite frankly,'' he told APNZ.

Pike River families spokesman Bernie Monk said Mr Whittall needed to recognise what families had been through and wait for the results of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the disaster.

"I felt he could have been more sensitive and maybe waited until after the commission to make headline news in the paper,'' he said.

"People will be a bit wary on whether to employ such a person at this stage until the commission finishes.''

Ms Shortall said she could not comment on the statements made by others about Mr Whittall's new business listing.

"I think there should be no misunderstanding that he has, and continues to have, a strong respect for the feelings of the families and I am comfortable saying I'm sure he didn't intend there to be any misunderstanding from them.''

She could not comment on whether he would wait until all other inquiries were completed until he started running the new business.

A Department of Labour spokesman said there was nothing in health and safety laws to prevent Mr Whittall setting up his company.

A website for the company is under construction, with the web page listing the site will be "up and running shortly''.

- APNZ

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