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Pike River – Charges against Peter Whittall withdrawn

Written By: - Date published: 11:38 am, December 12th, 2013 - 44 comments
Categories: disaster, health and safety, law and "order", Mining - Tags:

pike river families

In breaking news all charges laid under the HSIE Act against former Pike River boss Petter Whittall have been withdrawn.

From the Herald:

In a shock development in the Christchurch District Court this morning, the Crown said that after an extensive review it was “not appropriate to continue with the prosecution against Mr Whittall”.

Mr Whittall has proposed that a voluntary payment be made on behalf of the directors and officers of Pike River Coal Ltd (in receivership) at the time of the explosions to the families of the 29 men who died and the two survivors.

It means $110,000 will be given to each of the families and survivors – totalling $3.41m.

Mr Whittall’s lawyer Stuart Grieve QC today said a bank cheque has been given to the court and asked for Judge Jane Farish to make sure the money was available by Christmas.

While I am pleased that further compensation will be paid to the Pike River victims’ families it is disturbing that the payment of money should result on the face of it with charges being withdrawn.  There are public policy considerations and the need to maintain deterrence which mean that sometimes prosecutions should occur even if some financial redress has been paid.

The amount, $110,000 per victim, is the exact same amount that Judge Farrish ordered the company to pay when the company was sentenced for the same offence.  I wonder if the payment is in full and final settlement of this claim?  If so it seems that John Key and the Government are off the hook.

The payment is apparently being made on behalf of the directors and officers of the company at the time of the explosion.  It may be that it will be in satisfaction of any potential civil liability.  The payment was justified on the basis that a successful defence would have cost about the same amount.

Finally an apology of sorts was tendered.

Mr Whittall wishes to reiterate his heartfelt sympathy for the families and friends of those men who lost their lives in the Pike River coal mine in November 2010.

He has offered to meet with the families to convey these sentiments in person.”

Expressing sympathy and saying sorry are not necessarily the same thing.  Why is it that sorry seems to be sometimes the hardest word?

Update:  Radio New Zealand reported that Bernie Monk on behalf of the families said outside the Court that the payment was “blood money” and said they did not want to meet with Mr Whittall.

44 comments on “Pike River – Charges against Peter Whittall withdrawn”

  1. Philj 1

    Pike River mine.
    Justice has just left the country. Welcome to the jungle.

    • Paul 1.1

      Just read Rebecca Macfie’s book on Pike River.
      Beats me how he could have got off. given the evidence there.

      • phillip ure 1.1.1

        but what would he have got..?

        ..best-case scenario..guilty/sentenced..?

        ..six months home-detention..?

        ..and after a fortune spent prosecuting him..?

        ..better the money go to the families..

        ..than be thrown at lawyers..

        ..in an exercise in (however well-deserved) scapegoating/revenge..

        ..better the money than that hollow feeling..

        ..want to do something meaningful in their memory..?

        ..work yr/our arses off to get corporate-manslaughter on the books..

        ..with meaningful penalties..

        ..for those greed-driven/uncaring bastards..i would say..’lock em up!’..

        ..but for now..?

        ..better the money..

        ..phillip ure..

    • dave 1.2

      29 dead no compensation the corperations walk away not good enough cave creek all over again
      the nats have got to go

  2. Will@Welly 2

    Blood money – filth – welcome to John Keys brighter future. The crown withdrew the charges mainly due to cost – when has that ever been a problem if you’re poor or coloured.
    So no one is accountable for 29 dying in the mine – fuck me.

    • Arfamo 2.1

      Really? Is that all it was? Can you imagine how the DoL was going to look by the time the Defence had finished asking what it had done to protect the workers? Call me cynical, but I imagine shutting the whole thing down looked like the best option for a host of reasons.

    • infused 2.2

      It wasn’t just cost you fool. Read the damm article.

      • Will@Welly 2.2.1

        The Crown Prosecutor cited “cost” as a major factor in withdrawing the charges. A long and lengthy trial – so when has ever been an issue. This smacks of one big sham starting at the top with Key and Joyce. Find the money, find the trail, find the National Party coffers.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 2.3

      Ask the Urewera defendents about ‘charges unlikely to succeed’?

      But they went ahead anyway, but of course the Police have unlimited budgets and patience for these sort of fishing expeditions where nobody was injured or harmed in anyway

  3. Sue 3

    Shame! – Shame on you Peter Whittall – Shame on the government – What a dark day for the families and survivors – in fact for all workers in this country.

  4. Bill 4

    12th December 2013. The day New Zealand achieved 3rd World status. The cost of the license to do anything to anyone with impunity? Four zero’s and two one’s.

    Wonder why I’m remembering a scene from an old western where some settler tries to buy her safety by offering jewelery to the Indians…who then stuff her mouth with it til she chokes and expires.

  5. Colonial Viper 5

    Justice has indeed left the country; the rule of corporate malfaesance begins in earnest.

  6. Rogue Trooper 6

    CTU to consider seeking a judicial review.- Helen Kelly

    • alwyn 6.1

      I’m not a lawyer but can they get a judicial review on such a matter?
      And also would the CTU have any standing to seek such a thing?

      • One Anonymous Knucklehead 6.1.1

        Google is your friend.

        “…judicial review is available when an Act of Parliament creates a discretionary power for public officials to exercise – be they Ministers, Chief Executives of Government Ministries, or Ministry employees – and somebody adversely affected by the exercise of that power challenges the decision on the basis that the person exercising it has not acted consistently with the power given by the Act, for example, by misinterpreting the provision giving it. ”

        My emphasis.

        • alwyn

          Yes I read that too but I didn’t understand what it meant. Is the CTU adversely affected by the no prosecution choice? Similarly are the Police, or Crown Law for that matter, reviewable?

          • Arfamo

            No, but the families might consider they are, and the CTU might perhaps, along with others, choose to assist them because of the implications for other workers.

            As I understand it the discretion whether to exercise any statutory authority, and whether it was properly exercised, can be judicially reviewed. Unless there is an explicit statutory prohibition against JR.

            Anyone with legal expertise able to clarify?

            • alwyn

              I hadn’t thought about the families being the direct apellants, not the CTU.
              I also read, but forgot to put it the previous comment something that, as I understood it, meant that a Judicial Review could only look at the way a decision was made but could not look at what the decision was. Again I wasn’t sure what they were talking about.
              Where do you find a “pro bono” lawyer when you want one?

              • Rogue Trooper

                Community Law Centre 😀

              • Arfamo

                Yes, that’s correct. As I understand it, in a judicial review the judge can’t simply substitute his or her own decision for that of the original decision-maker – they only decide whether the decision was properly made, with the statutory decision-maker having taken into account and given proper consideration to all the relevant matters that needed to be considered, including the provisions of fairness and natural justice under administrative law.

                Generally I think if the decision is found to be deficient, it will be referred back for reconsideration with directions.

  7. Ake ake ake 7

    Great precedence for big businesses coming into NZ (deep sea oil mining companies next?)
    Justice, culpability and punishment can be avoided quite cheaply and easily.


  8. shorts 8

    Our collective National Shame

    Might as well give the Pike Management and the Board knighthoods and be done with it all


  9. ianmac 9

    Mr Key was in some trouble for ruling out a Government payout. Politically damaging.
    I bet he was surprised at the charges being dropped and the money appearing like a pot of gold at the end of his rainbow. Like what a co-incidence! Get a Lotto ticket John.
    What a relief for John Key.
    Are we reassured that all is well in NZ?
    (Really pleased for the families though.)

  10. blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) 10

    ..so what has been done to address the moral hazard aspects of this devastating event?

    What in this outcome ensures that both company directors and the NZ government actors feel something over and above a ‘duty’ to ensure workers are not being placed in circumstances of unreasonable danger? …because this sense of ‘duty’ appears to be in short supply at present.

    Is it left to those who have lost members of their family due to mismanagement of directors and the government to sue to ensure worker safety is taken seriously?

    Isn’t this something that is the government’s duty – not private citizens – to follow through with?

  11. greywarbler 11

    I needed to refresh myself so hae been doing some searches.

    First an interesting quote from Peter Whithall on one site.
    On sharetrader.co.nz site
    Some comments from sector and business people.Sideshow Bob wrote from Bolivia quoting unfavourable predictions.
    zorba disagreed using the silly tall-poppy put down that the well educated resort to when being confronted by negative factual arguments.
    “This is the classic Kiwi story of knocking a “tall poppy” project simply because its going to be a success …… he has an emotional investment in the project not succeeding.”

    A copy of letter by Peter Whitthall, General Manager, Mines written 23 May 2007 to the
    Greymouth Evening Star firmly criticising Dr Murry Cave saying in part –
    his description of deep, highly gassy coals and associated risk of outburst bears no relationship with the shallow, moderately gassy, non-outburst prone conditions at Pike River.

    Further detail –

    Then there is the book that has recently been released which is said to be very thorough and factual and strong stuff.
    Book – Tragedy at Pike River Mine: How and why 29 men died.
    by Rebecca Macfie
    launched in Greymouth
    16 November 2013
    Except despite early plans to pre-drain methane from the coal seam before mining began, this hadn’t happened. Instead, gas was bled out of the seam from the in-seam drill holes that Pike relied on to find out where the coal seam lay, and drained through a pipeline the company knew to be inadequate and overpressured.

    Pike had forged ahead with the introduction of its hydro-mining system before establishing the second means of egress that was required in law. It had widened the area to be mined with the hydro monitor without adequate knowledge of how the strata above would behave. It had started commissioning the system without having sufficient skilled workers to man it, and in the face of repeated spikes in the volume of methane released into the mine atmosphere.
    and further from the book –
    Nothing was heard from other people who had been closely involved in the development of the mine. Gordon Ward, who had been Pike River Coal’s chief executive until two monthsbefore the disaster, remained resolutely in Australia, where he now lived.
    Tony Radford, who had chaired the Pike board until 2006, remained a director until June 2011, and was chair of New Zealand Oil & Gas, wrote a brief submission under a compulsion order from the Royal Commission. He was not called to give testimony.

    Something about the interaction re Gordon Brown

    Some history –
    Various setbacks occurred during late 2007 and early 2008 delaying the start of coal production.
    The mine operators noted that technical difficulties with several mining machines were to blame for the delays, which also forced the company to ask for an extension from its financiers.[5]In February 2010, the first export shipment of 20,000 tons of coal was delivered to India for use in steel production.
    An explosion on Friday 19 November 2010 trapped 29 workers inside the mine.
    I lost my link to some of the factual information..
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pike_River_Mine gives some more detail

    Finance and backers.
    Pike River Coal Ltd is listed on the New Zealand and Australian stock exchanges. It raised NZ$85 million in additional capital for expanding the mine in 2007.[29] As of August 2007, over NZ$100 million had already been invested into developing the mine.

    The development was valued at NZ$2.3 billion and was initially held by New Zealand Oil & Gas (29% stake plus options and bonds[31]) as well as the two Indian companies, Gujarat NRE Coke Limited (17% share), and Saurashtra Fuels Private Limited (15% share),

    After the IPO, the ownership percentages changed to NZ Oil and Gas 31%, Gujarat NRE Coke 10%, Saurashtra Fuels 8.5%, with private minority shareholders holding 7.9% and the remaining 42.5% having been sold to the general public.[4

    Timeline of disaster
    and when Peter Whitthall General Manager –
    A company involved with lots of positive talk about expertise and chest-beating big business deal –

    and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_manslaughter

    • Paul 11.1

      Have just read the book.
      It makes you ashamed to come from this country, when our legislators set up the laws to protect profit above people. Pike River was a cowboy company, allowed to operate under the deregulated wasteland that NZ become after the neoliberals looted it from 1984 to 1993.

  12. greywarbler 12

    Don’t know where the smiley face got in. It looks as if there should be a capital D but I can’t edit.
    The ghost in the machine has a ‘funny’ sense of humour.

    [Fixed – MS]

  13. Will@Welly 13

    Time for that biddy goat Farish to hang up her robe, take her over-inflated pension, and find a new career. Perhaps Finlayson’s bitch.

  14. jcuknz 14

    I think it preferable that the families should get the cash rather than it be used to feed the legal aparatus with the likely result that nobody gets hung and nobody gets satisfaction in a long winded court action.

    • ghostrider888 14.1

      yes (sighs reluctantly with head bowed). Where does the power (Influence ) lie? Has there been a flood of judgements in favour of ‘labour’ (hmmm, reminds me of some Younger-than-me people I met today) and the environment under the behaviour over recent years of the Crown? ( reflects for , well didn’t need to really ) Tokenism , reminds me of all the greenstone pendants that re so visible as well collectively fail our kaitiakitanga (cannot incentivize the recycling of glass and aluminium for thsoe that would naturally benefit for example)
      That Graham McCready is a wonderful and atoning man though; just wonderful, people will not forget him like they shall John Key (restaint 😀 )
      It’s not called the Peoples Republic of China by deception; Very wise people The Chinese; much can be learned from their reciprocation in trade (mercantile means, possibly alternative ends, we shall see) Must bring the rear along with the front; The Stick or The Carrot? (should be able to understand that; not certainly though, intoxication appears to be a popular past-time) 😀

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