Bill English claims he did not know about Pike River robot footage

Prime Minister Bill English says he didn't know footage from Pike River Mine released by Newshub on Sunday even existed.

Exclusive video obtained by Newshub shows an overheating robot exploring the Pike River mine. While the robot can be seen emitting smoke or steam, there are no flames.

Twenty-nine miners died in the 2010 Pike River disaster and the Government has argued gas levels make it too dangerous to re-enter the mine to retrieve the bodies.

Mr English was pressed three times to answer the question of when he first knew the footage existed, during a live interview on The AM Show.

When first asked when he knew the footage existed, Mr English answered, "Well, I first saw it late last night…"

The question was repeated: "When did you first know about this video footage?"

"The particular footage, as I said, I saw it late last night," Mr English answered.

"I just want to go back to this first question. I asked you when you first knew about it. So, yes, you saw it for the first time last night, but have you known earlier that this footage existed?" Duncan Garner asked.

"Well, no," Mr English replied.

Acting Minister of Conservation for Pike River Issues Nick Smith told Newshub on Sunday he hadn't seen the footage either.

"No one from the Government has viewed this footage, though the Government has been advised it was used by Solid Energy as part of its extensive investigation into whether the mine was safe to enter," Mr Smith's spokesperson said.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little says he's not convinced by Mr English's claim that he only found out about the video on Sunday night.

"The Government knows what they've got. This has been leaked to the families - that happens when someone with a conscience says 'y'know what, the families have should have access to this'. 

"I don't accept the Government or even ministers don't know what government agencies hold and I think it's time for the Government to make sure the families have access to all of the images the Government holds from underground," Mr Little told Newshub.

The footage released to Newshub shows a robot accompanied by two men inside the mine. 

The lawyer working for the Pike River families says there's a belief in the coal mining world that if there are bodies to be recovered, they should be recovered. 

Nigel Hampton QC hopes experts will now "readdress the issue and properly engage with each other and work out what would be a safe manned re-entry".

He said there may well be a body or bodies in the drift or some evidence that may help assess how the first explosion took place. 

Opposition parties say the video throws into question just how dangerous re-entry of the mine is. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has gone as far as to speculate the Government could be covering up a crime scene.

"Why would you engage in a cover-up unless there was an attempt to avoid seriously material evidence? In short, the question is, is this a crime scene that we are avoiding looking at?" NZ First leader Winston Peters said on RadioLIVE's First at Five.

But Mr English has repeated the Government's claim that so far the assessment has been that it is not safe to go in.

"Whoever makes the decision about going in there needs to do so according to New Zealand law," Mr English said.

He said the Government can't exempt itself from workplace safety laws and processes, but there is no reason why the families should not have been shown the video.