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The handling of Pike River evidence was diabolical

Written By: - Date published: 7:39 am, February 21st, 2019 - 30 comments
Categories: crime, health and safety, law, Mining, police, workers' rights - Tags: ,

I feel like I should be getting myself a tinfoil hat.  Because the investigation into a crime scene where 29 Kiwi workers died should have been pristine.  But for some strange reason it wasn’t.

From Conan Young at Radio New Zealand:

Documents released by the Pike River families show the handling of exhibits from the mine was mismanaged, with the inquiry head at the time describing the chain of evidence as “diabolical”.

The revelation casts doubt on whether a potentially crucial piece of evidence to the cause of the explosion, a switchboard door, will ever be found.

The documents are in the form of a debrief conducted by the police in April 2012, looking at what worked and what didn’t in the police investigation into the explosion.

It was written by the inquiry head at the time, Detective Superintendent Peter Read, who continues to be involved in the investigation to this day.

It referred to the police body recovery operation and the investigation into what caused the explosion and said the recovery was “disorganised” when it came to keeping proper records, despite being told early on to take notes.

Mr Read said exhibits, including photos and video, arrived at the investigation base with no documentation so they had no idea when or where they had been taken.

He talked about the chain of custody for evidence, where every movement of exhibits was documented to prevent claims of evidence tampering.

In this case the chain of evidence, which Mr Read said was “basic police work”, was described as “diabolical”.

There were no job sheets or reports for any of the exhibits and at one stage they were given 600 photos of exhibits but had no idea who had taken them or what they were even of.

Cameras bought to help document the recovery operation and the investigation simply disappeared.

And the Department of Labour was also subject to scathing comments:

While the police were on the look out for any criminal behaviour, the Department of Labour, now known as WorkSafe, were investigating any workplace safety breaches.

Police would often defer to these inspectors who were supposed to know more about mining than them.

However Read talked about them as being “out of their depth”.

He noted they were investigating themselves over their own role in the disaster, and asked whether the police should have gone to somebody more independent for advice, such as state-owned coal company Solid Energy.

Fault is found with the Department of Labour’s own record keeping, with Mr Read saying much of their findings were confined to note books and they did not have systems in place to manage their own investigation file in a “logical sequence”.

He said because of this the police were still missing information.

Mr Read said the Department of Labour interviewed a fraction of the people the police talked to and gathered information that would prove their case, instead of trying to corroborate what people were saying by checking with others, as the police would do.

So cruicial evidence which may have identified the combustion point disappeared on a helicoptor and basic police processes regarding the chain of evidence were ignored.

Can someone explain what happened here?  And give an explanation that does not involve the use of tin foil? 

30 comments on “The handling of Pike River evidence was diabolical”

  1. WeTheBleeple 1

    Police always take notes it is hammered into them at training. So the lack of notes is an issue insofar as proper procedure.

    Gross incompetence or cover up.

    I’m thinking a cover up of gross incompetence.

    Police will also act on behalf of mine owners rather than general public like when they fucked me over as a seven year old boy trying to pin murder on me to cover the lack of safety in a coal mine and dairy factory leading to the death of my brother.

    That was the 70’s. Have they got more or less corrupt?

    • patricia bremner 1.1

      They still inspect their own with no independence.

    • Anne 1.2

      … they fucked me over as a seven year old boy trying to pin murder on me to cover the lack of safety in a coal mine and dairy factory leading to the death of my brother.

      That would not surprise me WTB. One hell of a lot of stuff went down during that era that was hushed up. Overall incompetence and stupidity ruled the day. It is marginally better now although this Pike River muck-up makes one wonder…

      • WeTheBleeple 1.2.1

        We lived in a dairy company village of asbestos housing atop a coal mine with a water supply contaminated by medical waste via a piggeries upstream contracted to get rid of radioactive medical waste. They buried it below the water table.

        You can’t make this shit up. To top that, another dairy factory caught fire upstream and a silo of milk powder got in the river and killed everything. I was walking home from school I could smell it 100 meters before I hit the bridge. Dead bloated and exploding fish eels and cattle. River turned cloudy white.

        I guess the nitrate today is a little more subtle.

        I’ve been avidly against private oversight for a long time.

  2. Muttonbird 2

    I remember watching the local cop in charge immediately after the event and thinking, “Why is this guy from a small town with no relevant experience in charge?”

    It was clear no-one had any idea what they were doing. That was intuition then and so it transpires.

    No-one knew what they were doing because the apparatus for responding to such an emergency had been dismantled by successive National governments.

    • NZJester 2.1

      Yes, National the party that says they are the Law and Order party but tend to always underfund the police while giving them unrealistic targets to complete.

      The job would have been left a lot to the local cops so the bigger departments did not blow too much of their budget.

      Under Labour governments, the Police tend to be better funded and used a lot more to try to prevent crime and tragedy, rather than clean up the mess afterward.

      I mean there was even the cases under the last National Government where they had police deliberately misfiling serious crimes as less serious crimes to make it look like the budget cuts were not affecting their workload completion.

      Under National Governments workplace safety laws also tends to be watered down or ignored. Safety inspectors tend to be few and far between to check on everything and have no real teeth to do anything if they do find problems.

      National are strong believers in self-regulation by businesses and that has been costly in the lives of a lot of workers. The deaths from workplace accidents under the last National government show what happens when you let companies be lax with workplace safety. When you look at why a lot of the companies where lax with safety it all comes back to being able to save a buck to undercut competitors who do follow the safety rules.

  3. vto 3

    one should never trust authority

    never

    history continues to underline this

    never

    ask the pike river families about authority

    never

    • RedLogix 3.1

      So who are you going to trust?

      • vto 3.1.1

        I don’t know if that is the right follow-on question…

        … isn’t it more ‘how should one adjust to reflect this reality?’

      • adam 3.1.2

        Another silly comment from Redlogix.

        Oh the humanity, think of the children, authority must be respected and worshipped. How can we operate without the peasants worshipping leaders and following orders.

        p.s. Redlogix ( personally I love the irony in your name as your comments are always really emotive) just in case you missed the bitter sarcasm, which you do seem too – oh so often. I find it gross your sickening worship of authority, and your defence of the beige revolution.

        Mind you when people like you want to see the deaths of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people becasue their leaders mismanaged the economy – you really need to wonder…

        • RedLogix 3.1.2.1

          So no answer to my simple question then?

          • adam 3.1.2.1.1

            Sorry, don’t do stupid.

            • RedLogix 3.1.2.1.1.1

              So no answer then, just more silly assertions with no evidence to back them up.

              BTW after almost a decade of robust participation here it’s plain to me that a personal attack, shorn of any actual debate, always says far more about the person making it than the target. This is an iron-clad rule.

  4. vto 4

    The difference in approach to Pike River..

    between Labour

    and National

    is unbelievably chasmic

    why such a difference in approach?

    Like Pike River goes to the heart of what was the failure of neoliberal politics, so too does Pike River go to the heart of the difference between Labour and National..

    Why did National want to pour tonnes and tonnes of concrete in the mine entry to seal it?????

    corrupt. evil. untrustworthy.

    • RedLogix 4.1

      On this I agree 100%.

      At every step John Keys govt acted as if it was knowingly covering up a crime.

      The problem is that we don’t know exactly what crime. We’ve reached the point where it’s become impossible to distinguish between extreme stupidity and malice.

      • vto 4.1.1

        criminal and gross negligence. The tort.

        Plenty of evidence already re lax safety and other standards.

      • mosa 4.1.2

        ” We’ve reached the point where it’s become impossible to distinguish between extreme stupidity and malice ”
        Two perfect examples of the classic kiwi cover up.

      • Muttonbird 4.1.3

        In terms of the Pike River company, the construction of an unsafe mine and an unsafe working environment constitutes both extreme stupidity and malice.

        Likewise the deregulation of the industry and the attacks on worker representation by National-led governments.

  5. Andre 5

    I think it’s useful to run a fine-tooth comb over the screw-ups in evidence-handling, indeed in overall response, by the police and others, for the sake of hopefully getting those issues handled better in future incidents.

    But the fact of problems in the response shouldn’t be allowed to obscure the bigger picture; even without the mis-handled evidence that’s now come to light there was already plenty in the Royal Commission report to make it clear Pike River was an accident waiting to happen. It was a worksite with appallingly negligent carelessness towards worker safety, apparently driven from the very top. In that bigger picture, getting hung up about determining the exact cause of ignition really is missing the forest for examining vein patterns on leaves.

    I’ve seen it too many times in the aftermath of screwups where excessive focus on the exact detail of what went wrong allowed bigger systemic problems to get glossed over and ignored.

    • marty mars 5.1

      + 1 yep

    • mosa 5.2

      Totally agree.

    • RedLogix 5.3

      Absolutely. The Safety Pyramid of Controls puts Elimination at the top for a reason. In other words, why is this hazard allowed to exist is a question that all too often is buried under a welter of lesser details.

      • Andre 5.3.1

        Oddly enough, I’ve often found completely eliminating a hazard by changing the product or process is often the hardest thing to get management approval for. Even when the proposed new process/product without the hazard is better and cheaper. They will often seem more comfortable with incrementally wasting a lot more time and money trying to manage the hazard within what is already existing rather than making the conceptual change to completely eliminate it.

        • RedLogix 5.3.1.1

          Nicely put. Indeed I can think of two occasions where I did myself no favours by pointing this out.

    • KJT 5.4

      Looking for the “one person to blame” often holds up fixing systemic causes.

      We know, even the most highly trained and competent humans, screw up at times.

      In fact, on ships and aircraft, we try and eliminate the possibility of a screw up causing a disaster.

      In operations like mining, it should never be possible for one persons screw up to cause a major accident. That is a systemic failure.

  6. Ad 6

    Hopefully everyone has read the Rebecca McFie book “Tragedy at Pike River Mine”.
    This spells out the commercial pressures that drove all the health and safety corners cut in the designs. Every page makes you angrier.

    Personally I think the previous government did a good job immediately establishing a Royal Commission, and then changing the law comprehensively as a result.

    Note today is the anniversary of the Kaitangata coal mine disaster. 34 men died.

    https://nzhistory.govt.nz/kaitangata-mining-disaster

  7. KJT 7

    The cop’s have admitted they screwed up. Refreshing. And good on them.

    Maybe their culture is improving.

    I have yet to see any admission from the Government, who removed all the experienced people from mine oversight, leaving an out of his depth, cop, to carry the can. Just as they put taxi drivers, ex police, yachties and real estate agents, in charge of Maritime New Zealand. And privatised vehicle inspection and building inspection, with entirely predictable results.

    I think we will simply confirm, that the responsibility for Pike River lies with too many people, for prosecutions.
    Even the experienced miners knew it was unsafe, but they still went in,

    As for the call not to rescue. In my job, it is possible, i may have to make that call one day. It is easier, in some ways, to just charge in. It was the correct one at the time. Putting at risk more people to pull out miners who were, almost certainly dead, on the information they had.
    Nothing they will find down the mine changes that.
    What would people be saying now, if a rescue team had gone in, to be killed by another explosion.

  8. RJL 8

    It is not too surprising that the crime scene was a bit of a mess initially. In the first hours and perhaps days there was a slender hope that a rescue was possible and that would have been the priority rather than crime scene control and documentation.

    Then, DoL simply doesn’t seem to have been organised and resourced to conduct a police-style investigation.

    So, hard to say if the disappearance of a specific piece of evidence is simply incompetence or a conspiracy. The reports seem to suggest that there are lots of problems with the evidence, so I think that the disappearance of the fan controller wreckage could simply be one of numerous cock ups.

    • RedLogix 8.1

      Yes that’s the most likely explanation on the face of it. What I struggle with is that all this is only coming to light nearly a decade later when it’s almost too late.

      • RJL 8.1.1

        Renewed interest from ministers on downwards due to change of government and subsequent plans to renter the mine would seem to explain why stuff is coming to light now.

        Cultivated disinterest by the previous ministers on downwards probably explains why stuff did not come to light previously.

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