Families back Pike River civil case

  • 06/11/2014

Solid Energy's decision to abandon the body recovery effort is unlikely to be the last chapter in the story of the Pike River mining disaster.

Local authorities and the victims' families are welcoming the Government's suggestion it could pursue a civil case against those believed responsible for the 2010 tragedy, in which 29 men lost their lives.

No one has been held criminally responsible, with police saying last year that without gaining re-entry into the mine, there was not enough evidence to link individuals with specific events leading up to the explosion.

The Government has now asked Crown Law to investigate the possibility of a civil suit.

"We'll be sharing that advice with the families, and in the event that civil proceedings could be brought against culpable parties, then the Government will fund those legal proceedings," Prime Minister John Key said yesterday.

Pike River families group committee chairman Colin Smith said the announcement could give families another shot at holding someone liable.

"It was certainly a welcome surprise, and it does give another avenue for families to work with the Government to find out whether that's possible," he said on Firstline this morning.

"Obviously one of the major outstanding issues for families is the fact there has been no accountability or justice, and this does give an opportunity to have a look at another option in terms of getting some accountability."

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn says it will be a difficult process, with many of the key witnesses out of the country and unwilling to cooperate.

"The Pike River coal mine had a duty of care and they let their workers down, so the top end of the Pike River coal mine management – we're talking about [previous Pike River chief executive] Gordon Ward and [chief executive at the time of the explosion] Peter Whittall – they really should have to come to account.

"But I have to be very careful when we say accountable, because Judge [Jane] Farish – when she made her deliberations – said 14 of the key witnesses would not return from Australia, so if they won't come back from Australia or can't be brought back, it'll make it very difficult. But yes, there should be accountability here."

In the meantime Solid Energy has chosen to hand in its mining permit for the area, a decision Mr Smith hopes is permanent.

"Certainly that is a step in the right direction, and that was one of the things that as a family group leading into this decision that we wanted to see. We wanted to see the mining licence surrendered and mining ended in the vicinity forever."

Mr Kokshoorn says it's a wasted opportunity for the West Coast, but it's what the families want.

"It's a shame – when I think back now, it had so much promise for coal development there and huge employment for coasters. But if that is the wish of the families, we'll run with that and see what happens."

With no plans to enter the mine, the site will be turned into a memorial to those who lost their lives. Mr Kokshoorn says it's a "beautiful, calm" area that will prove a fitting resting place.

"I can remember 15 years ago when we walked out of there, trying to find a road system into the Pike River coal mine – we were, with our binoculars, looking in streams over half a kilometre away, and you could see the trout moving up the creeks and that type of thing. It's a beautiful area. I think the families now will realise these men are together."

Mr Smith believes the memorial gives the families and community to "work towards something that gives a sense of achievement".

The Government still has $5 million allocated towards the now-abandoned recovery that will instead be used to maintain access roads for the families, so they can visit the likely final resting place of their loved ones.

3 News 

source: newshub archive