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NRT: A dirty deal

Written By: - Date published: 6:33 pm, February 27th, 2014 - 46 comments
Categories: law - Tags: , , ,

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This original of this post is here at No Right Turn

When the government dropped charges against former Pike River boss Peter Whittall over the Pike River mine explosion, they claimed that the simultaneous announcement that he would pay compensation to the families of the 29 men he was accused of killing was just a coincidence, and that there was no deal. As usual, they lied:

Twelve health and safety charges laid against Whittall were dropped in Christchurch District Court on December 12. It was also announced at that hearing there would be a $3.41 million payment to the families of the 29 men who died in the mine and the two survivors.

At the time, Judge Jane Farish stressed to media there had been no back-room deal. One of Whittall’s lawyers, Stacey Shortall, also said any suggestion the payment offer from the Pike River Coal Company and its directors and officers was in return for the charges being dropped was ‘‘absolutely wrong’’.

But in an October 16 letter, Whittall’s lawyer Stuart Grieve QC lays out a proposal to make available $3.41m to the Pike River families.

The letter, released exclusively to Fairfax Media, says that in ‘‘advance of the $3.41 million being made available, it is proposed [with precise terms to be agreed] that … the Ministry will not proceed with the charges laid against Mr Whittall by advising the Court that no evidence will be offered in support of any of the charges.’’

So, they cut a deal with a rich prick to allow him to buy his way out of jail, then lied to the public about it (and in the process, turned a High Court Judge into a liar as well – wonder how she feels about that?) This isn’t justice. But its clear that National thinks that the law only applies to peasants, not to them and their rich mates.

46 comments on “NRT: A dirty deal”

  1. mickysavage 1

    If it smells like a deal and quacks like a deal …

    No matter how this is presented it has the taint that following an offer of a payment of compensation a charge was withdrawn.

    BTW Judge Farrish is a District Court Judge.

    • rhinocrates 1.1

      I think that we need to start making a blacklist of officials who are potentially corrupt or incompetent.

      Starting:

      Mike Bush, nominated as new police commissioner: praises corrupt cop who planted evidence.

      Jane Farrish: apparently willing to be bought out of prosecution

      Peter Marshall, Police Commissioner: blind to rape gang and rape culture in the police, tries to intimidate complainants.

      Greg Sparrow, Police something in Dunedin: allowed the murder of two children due to blindness of domestic abuse despite being warned well in advance.

      Name and shame them.

  2. Clemgeopin 2

    How the heck could the government allow such a shameful unfair secret arrangement be put in place without taking the families into confidence and seeking their views or approval first? Surely, it can’t be that the government wasn’t aware of this deal?

    This matter is so serious that the government needs to be censured, charged and it should resign immediately.

  3. felix 3

    Finally got around to reading Rebecca Macfie’s Pike River book recently.

    Can’t believe that bastard’s not in jail.

    • greywarbler 3.1

      Rebecca was interviewed on Radionz this morning.
      Tragedy at Pike River Mine – How and why 29 men died – book

      • felix 3.1.1

        Hmmm, nothing on the website. Which programme was it?

        • greywarbler 3.1.1.1

          felix
          Can’t give easy tab don’t know how – but go to News – National – Top Stories – MP claims dirty deal done on Pike charges – click on that presents summary and down the bottom is a live line to MacFie’s comments. (I see she was on Checkpoint 7 mins approx)

    • amirite 3.2

      +1 Her book should be a compulsory reading for all parliamentarians.

    • greywarbler 3.3

      Pike River mine explosion November 19, 2010. Pike’s mine manager White had Australian mining experience. His response to the explosion news was to tell Rockhouse to keep low and he would get out all right. When Rockhouse finally walked out of the mine with Smith, there was no-one waiting at the entrance.

      This was at 5.26 pm, 1 hour 42 minutes after the explosion, of which he thought he’d been unconscious for 50 minutes. If 10 minutes was added to that for orientation before Rockhouse phoned and spoke to Doug White, then there was about 42 minutes for Rockhouse to walk about 2 kms supporting Russell Smith, with limited air as the air supply gear was inadequate or decommissioned. Rockhouse had to phone, and help then was sent promptly.

      People won’t come back to testify. Now that is a point. NZ has had 29 people killed in a work accident and those involved don’t have a summons issued that if not complied with means they have committed a jailable offence and cannot return to NZ.

      Players – Doug White refused to be interviewed, involved from 2010-2011. Tony Radford business driver with 31% shareholding company and director involved from about 1990 then with coy 2006-2012, Ray Meyer director 2000-2010, Arun Jagatramka director for Gujarat NRE, India 2007-2011 and Stephen Rawson director 2000-2006. Also Dipak Agarwalla.for Asurashtra Fuels 2005-2011. Gordon Ward did not respond to requests for information, accountant with pretensions. Involved from 1998-2010.

  4. RedBaronCV 4

    Did Fairfax get the letter under an OIA request or some other way?
    If so why are they running this story? Who is to be embarassed here?

    BTW I find it creepy that someone can buy their way out of crimnal charges. Justice for sale in NZ along with everything else.

    • mickysavage 4.1

      Radio NZ seems to have a copy of the letter and also Andrew Little. There may have been a mass release.

      • karol 4.1.2

        Andrew Little’s press release says he got the letter from an OIA.

        Labour has obtained under the Official Information Act a letter from Peter Whittall’s lawyer Stuart Grieve QC which has been sanitised for public release.

        “The public will be deeply concerned to learn that such a deal was offered last October, nearly two months before the former Department of Labour, now WorkSafe, went to court.

        “There has been speculation about a backroom deal ever since the charges against Peter Whittall were dropped. Now this letter confirms those fears.

        “What hasn’t been explained is why the charges against Peter Whittall were discharged, not withdrawn, meaning he can never face any charge associated with the Pike River deaths.

        “My hunch is the original letter contains a lot more and sets out the real deal. We need to know what that was.

        • Kahukowhai 4.1.2.1

          The important point is Little’s comments that the charges were discharged rather than withdrawn. All of the media reports have been pointing out this means that he cannot be charged again in the future.

          If that turns out to be correct then heads should roll in the government.

        • Clemgeopin 4.1.2.2

          [1] Can’t the verdict of discharge be challenged and appealed in a higher court?
          [2] Can’t the parliament reopen the case?
          [3] Is it a good idea for a nation wide protest day and march to be organised by the families, the opposition and concerned citizens?
          [4] If all else fails, Can’t the present opposition give an assurance of revisiting this case in parliament and in the courts when they get back into power?
          [5] Is there any other remedy/redress possible?

          • PapaMike 4.1.2.2.1

            Clemgeopin

            Your comments are very pertinent, but would be helped if the families had not accepted the money.

            • Clemgeopin 4.1.2.2.1.1

              Were the families taken into confidence about the secret deals and conditions of accepting the money? Were they aware that the CEO and the company would be given a free pass about their culpability? Were the families mislead, hoodwinked or blackmailed with offers of money instead of fair justice?

              I think these are important questions that haven’t been answered yet, as far as I know.

              • PapaMike

                I believe it was in the Media arena in November immediately following the High Court decision.
                Seems may have ben overlooked until now though.

          • Kahukowhai 4.1.2.2.2

            I am puzzled as to the lack of comment on this in the wider media or blogosphere. It would appear the government, having swept aside its own massive failures to ensure public safety through the Mines inspectorate, has decided that giving Whittall a get out of jail free card is the way to go. Let us sweep the whole thing under the carpet with the greatest possible speed.

            Any comment from the families, this one seems to have gone under the radar.

  5. Skinny 5

    To think John Key stood side by side with Whittall on stage at the very public memorial service for the lost miners. I could not believe gullible idiots like John Key and the shrill media, mainly at TV3 News were hailing the Corporate murderer as a hero and worthy of New Zealander of the year.

    • tc 5.1

      Key is not gullible and TV3 does as told. More spin for the masses, alot knew exactly why and who could be held accountable,as RL says had to put a stop to that.

    • greywarbler 5.2

      From the book Tragedy at Pike River Mine, I listed the other ‘players’ in Pike River Coal in an earlier comment on this thread. And their time of involvement with it. While Peter Whittall has been involved long-term, there are others who have been driving the whole project from their chairs, and who knew about the problems likely to be faced. It seems to me that Whittall is a fall guy and the shadowy figures from the boardroom are also of interest when assessing responsibility.

      This is the brief bio from the book. Peter Whittall Pike River Coal’s first employee, hired in 2005 as General Manager, Mines. Whittall oversaw design and development of the mine as a start-up operation.
      Also filled the role of Statutory Mine Manager from September 2009 until December 2009.
      He became Chief Executive of Pike River Coal Ltd in October 2010. He finished working for the company (in receivership) in November 2011. (fr Tragedy at Pike River Mine Rebecca Macfie).

      On the actual size of the coal field Macfie writes: “the seam lay 13 metres thick in places, ran six and a half kilometres from north to south, and was up to two kilometres wide.
      This was no ordinary coal. It was ‘beautiful’ – a bright, lustrous coking coal with properties that would be sought after by international steelmakers, who rely on coke as a source of fuel for their blast furnaces, and of carbon to bond with iron to produce steel.
      Pike’s low ash and high fluidity made it a unique and potentially highly valuable resource…’ p.23

      Of importance in understanding the situation is the 1993 findings of Masaoki Nishioka, a respected and experienced engineer with Japanese giant Mitsui Mining. He was approached and was interested and proposed drilling seven bore-holes to reveal the coalfiield geology.

      ‘Nishioka concluded the coal had valuable characteristics’ but he recommended non-involvement to the Mitsui board. He advised that its location and geography would cause access to be ‘difficult and expensive’.

      There were other factors that concerned him too. The coal extracted from the boreholes contained so much methane that the gas had bubbled out of the samples. One highly experienced man commented that it was the gassiest coal he’d seen in 40 or 45 year of mining. Any underground mining operation at Pike would have to very carefully manage the methane, a gas which is explosive within the range of 5 percent and 15 percent of air and poses one of the greatest risks in underground coal mining.

      Another deterrent was that the upper layer of the seam was high in sulphur, which would make it useless as a coking coal for the steel industry. Nishioka calculated that Pike would produce only about five or six million tonnes of saleable coking coal – not enough to justify the significant investment that would be required to develop the mine.
      fr Macfie: Tragedy at Pike River Mine

      So with that knowledge, the men who pursued the planning, financing and commissioning of the mine and also the positive representation to the shareholders and to the employees, must have a major responsibility for the later disaster. This is because they knew of the extreme gassiness and explosive potential, and with that careful oversight of this problem should have been a top item of interest, with a budget provided for metering levels and gear required for safeguards.

      From reading about the unfolding story of the mine’s development in Macfie’s book it is clear that the mine was not prepared adequately. Appropriate gas measuring was not installed and then maintained and monitored. Safety measures needed to be instituted from the start and maintained at a high level. This was not done. The men were under pressure to perform and getting even the needed big machinery was blocked, proper safety equipment was not on the approved action list.

      • amirite 5.2.1

        The conclusion that one comes to from reading the book: this mine should never have been allowed to open, let alone operate in the way it was designed and built. There was no escape route for the miners from there. Even the fittest among the miners would not have sustained the climb up the 100 m high ventilation shaft that was supposed to be used as an emergency exit.

        Whittall’s involvement in the whole company management was donkey deep. He was considered a sort of control freak by many of his colleagues and employees. The primary motivator for him and the management was to start the mine and start making (unrealistic) profits from it, no matter what. First, the brand new, untested, cheap mining machines imported from Australia, were breaking down a lot. Second, many workers weren’t adequately trained and briefed on h & s issues. People complained, nothing was done. Much later, proper second hand machines were bought .

        Many times Whittall was notified about health and safety issues in the mine, about several incidents of high methane levels and methane leaks (even one incident of igniting of methane just prior to the fatal first explosion) in the working part of the mine.

        There is such a big, detailed account in this book of all that was wrong with the mine since the very beginning to the tragic end. I just can’t understand how NONE of the charges against Whittall (and the others) could not stick.

      • Kahukowhai 5.2.2

        And in spite of these concerns it was marketed and developed as a high quality reserve of, if I recall correctly, some twenty million tonnes? And they were going to have a mining output of a million tonnes a year which many thought was overly optimistic. So I would have thought some of the shareholders would have had a case for the promoters being prosecuted for making fraudulent statements about the mine and its potential.

  6. RedLogix 6

    The reason why no-one was prosecuted is because a Court case would have opened the proverbial worm can.

    There was never a lack of someone to prosecute. It was that there were too many people to prosecute – right to the very top.

    Had to put a stop to it.

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      +1

    • Kahukowhai 6.2

      Legally under HSIE Whittall was the only PERSON that could be held liable.

      The COMPANY was separately prosecuted and fined. However the fine has not been paid as the company is insolvent and the parent company NZ Oil & Gas refused to pay out.

      • RedLogix 6.2.1

        Oh yes I realise all that.

        The point is that Whittall’s only plausible defense was along the lines of “I was only following orders, and besides everything I did was legal”.

        At that point it would become clear that Whittall was being thrown to the dogs for the sins of his masters.

        There is of course a difference between LEGAL and ETHICAL. (Or MORAL even.) However legal something is, if it offends the values of Joe Public it would have become an embarrassment.

        In election year.

        • Kahukowhai 6.2.1.1

          An honourable person such as Whittall could have chosen to be, would have pled guilty at the earliest opportunity, because he was so involved with the mine as its first employee and the most senior member with mining experience (the previous CEO and the directors had no knowledge of underground mining) then his knowledge of what was needed to establish a safe mine should have ensured the mine was built from the ground up and operated safely. Instead he compounded his earlier errors by taking on the CEO’s job two months before the disaster.

          So he presumably accepted the advice of his lawyers that a plausible defence would have been to try to shift the blame onto the other managers and the directors, and whilst there was indeed a case that could be made that these other parties were also responsible it doesn’t entirely remove blame from his own shoulders.

  7. Philj 7

    Xox
    Another sad day for justice and fairness in New Zealand. There is the smell of rotting fish in Government and the Corporatocracy that runs this, The most Southern State of the US of Aotearoa.

  8. adam 8

    Silly question – but why are you shocked? Do you think the ruling classes give a shit about us? It really is a case of BFW http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPMwFgJ6WDU&feature=kp come on folks, we the people are there to be protected from.

    So one section of the ruling elite protected another section of the ruling elite – nothing new. Same shit, different time in history.

  9. This is utterly contemptible. Compensation should have been given but not in a trade for no prosecution.

    Who was the lawyer’s letter addressed to? It seems to be directed at MBIE, the mega-ministry (that folded in the old Department of Labour).

    Who is the minister?

    Mr Fixit.

    Indeed.

  10. Kahukowhai 10

    And you claim that Whittall is a “rich prick” and how do you back up that claim? He did not actually pay the money himself, it came from insurance.

  11. Kevin McCready 11

    6D of the letter. I will tell the Crown (ie Ministers) what to say! Amazing John Key thought he would get away with it.

  12. Murray Olsen 12

    Heads should roll over this one. Someone should end up behind bars. If they don’t, we have to ask serious questions about our democracy and the rule of law. The bastards are so arrogant they think they can take all the peaceful options away from us, and kill us at will.

    • RedLogix 12.1

      Yes – the word you are looking for is hubris.

      It’s a word that weaves together their arrogance, their assumed, unquestioned entitlement to privilege, their unconcealed snobbery.

      Of course they’d never imagine themselves as murderers. They think themselves fine upstanding people who adhere mightily to the last jot and title of the law.

      And yes when they take away all our peaceable options interesting things do happen. In that vein I’d recommend this recent essay:

      In point of fact, as Walter Laqueur showed in his capable survey Weimar: A Cultural History, denouncing the Weimar Republic as a fascist regime was quite the lively industry in Germany in the very late 1920s and early 1930s. Unfortunately for those who made this claim, history has a wicked sense of humor. A good many of the people who liked to insist that Weimar Germany was a fascist state got to find out—in many cases, at the cost of their lives—that there really is a difference between a troubled, dysfunctional, and failing representative democracy and a totalitarian state, and that a movement that promises to overturn a broken status quo, and succeeds in doing so, is perfectly capable of making things much, much worse.

      http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/2014/02/fascism-and-future-part-one-up-from.html
      http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/2014/02/fascism-and-future-part-two.html
      http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/2014/02/fascism-and-future-part-three-weimar.html

  13. amirite 13

    The MSM, the social media and the public are strangely silent about this.
    If it was a Labour government that signed this dirty deal off, the public would be baying for blood.

    • Kahukowhai 13.1

      The government created a diversion in Christchurch with Brownlee savaging the new mayor and council, although in saying that I am surprised the families spokesperson seems not to have grasped the significance of the acquittal, given that they had pressed Graham McCready to withhold pressing his own charges against Whittall in order to leave themselves future options.

  14. RedBaronCV 14

    Give it time, not sure that this is going to just pass unnoticed.

  15. Tracey 15

    Jane Farrish: apparently willing to be bought out of prosecution…

    perhaps she was taking the paeties at their word. it would be unusual for a judge to be privy to settlement.

    are criminal settlements not confidential?

    • Murray Olsen 15.1

      I got the impression that it was all done without the judge’s knowledge. In fact, a bit like the case the police presented to a court with the Red Devils in Nelson. I think NAct have spent so long slagging off “lenient” judges that they have come to hold them in contempt, and see nothing wrong with using them as unwitting rubber stamps.

  16. Clemgeopin 16

    TODAY’S NEWS : LAWYER AND GOVERNMENT, BOTH DENY INITIATING THE DEAL!

    Pike River Mine boss Peter Whittall’s lawyers and the Government both deny initiating the cash deal.

    Whittall’s lawyer, Stuart Grieve, QC, laid out a proposal to make $3.41 million available to the Pike River families in a letter dated October 16.

    Grieve said in “advance of the $3.41 million being made available, it is proposed [with precise terms to be agreed] that … the ministry will not proceed with the charges laid against Mr Whittall by advising the court that no evidence will be offered in support of any of the charges”.

    Prime Minister John Key said on Thursday that the offer was unsolicited.

    Key said the Government played no part in the decision to drop the charges.

    “My understanding is the judge made it quite clear the reasons she actually supported the actions that were taken were because it was very unlikely a prosecution would be successful,” he said.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/9779078/Denial-of-Pike-deal-initiation

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