Strip out all the media-assisted collective emotion that we have felt as we watched and read the blanket coverage of the Pike River disaster this past week. Including the hyperbolic descriptions of the now presumed dead miners as "brave men" and even "heroes".

And what are we left with? The brutal reality is that 29 victims perished in a disaster that international experts are saying should not have happened at a modern mine.

On Monday, John Key's Cabinet will confirm terms of reference for a commission of inquiry into the tragedy.

It is important that the Cabinet displays the utmost integrity and announces a royal commission headed by an independently minded judge and at least two other commissioners.

And importantly, gives them sufficient room to inquire into the actions of all concerned: Whether Pike River Coal had invested sufficiently in up-to-date safety equipment to monitor methane levels at its gassy mine and whether it had ensured the mine's design (it is built on Conservation estate) provided escape routes for its miners and adequate safe havens under-ground. This is important.

UK Mines Rescue operations manager Andrew Watson believes the safety alerts must have failed - "either the warning system was inadequate, or it was not sufficiently monitored".

It must be free to probe major issues which impact on Government. Particularly whether "green mining" can be done in an environment underscored by an old faultline.

And whether mine bosses took their eye off the ball as they "cut and tucked" their project to meet demands of the Department of Conservation and local Maori to put environmental preservation centre-stage.

Mines boss Peter Whittall has done a sterling job fronting up to families and media over conditions in the Pike River mine. I already applauded him on this score when I wrote earlier this week it was time for Pike River chairman John Gow to front-up and be publicly seen to publicly support his CEO during his time of immense stress.

But as I've read back through Pike River's annual reports, press statements and associated news coverage, I am troubled by one particular comment in a February 2010 news story quoting Whittall saying, "So long as mining is done sensitively the country wins both ways. You get the economic value from the mine and you still maintain the conservation values."

At this time, the Government was debating whether to allow more "surgical mining" in our National Parks and conservation estate.

Whittall contended New Zealand had an opportunity to be a world leader in developing "green mines".

"Our mine at Pike River proves that it can be done. It was likely any new mines would be underground. In such cases the surface impact is small, the infrastructure is removed at the end of mining."

But the story also noted that engineers had no drill hole information when costing and planning the road. The company had drilled the 2.5km mine tunnel through an area it had virtually no information about because getting access for bore holes was too hard.

Said Whittall: "Our knowledge and our predictability was hampered by being in the DoC estate."

Then there is the disaster response. Cabinet ministers Gerry Brownlee and Judith Collins attacked an Australian journalist who asked some insensitive - but valid - questions.

But Brownlee and Collins have vested interests. The Economic Development Minister has been a strong advocate for "surgical" mining in national parks where Pike River has been held up as the gold standard example, and, Collins rushed in to defend police management of the disaster "rescue" without even seeming to query why there was no credible plan, let alone technological resources, in place to deal with a methane explosion.

The upcoming inquiry cannot shirk this key question of whether it was appropriate to have police leading the effort rather than mining personnel.

There will clearly be lessons that must be learned. The reality is that previous disaster inquiries in this country have had mixed results.

Think back to the Mt Erebus disaster and the opprobrium that was heaped on former High Court Judge Sir Peter Mahon by the Muldoon Government after he accused Air New Zealand of mounting an "orchestrated litany of lies" to exculpate itself from any subsequent blame at the royal commission of inquiry.

All 257 passengers and crew onboard the DC10 aircraft that crashed into the Antarctic mountain on November 29, 1979, perished. Air NZ challenged Mahon's contention that there had been a "predetermined plan of deception" and the Court of Appeal agreed, saying the judge had exceeded the inquiry's terms of reference.

The upshot was that the reputations of the aircrew - who had been given confusing coordinates - were conveniently trashed to maintain faith in the government-owned airline.

The upcoming inquiry must be rigorous. But it should not shirk in apportioning blame if the facts warrant it.

The last thing the local mining industry needs is a face-saving inquiry that concludes this disaster was simply an act of God.