Pike River families lose appeal

by Rebecca Macfie / 16 February, 2017

Photo/David White

As Pike families continue to fight for re-entry into the mine’s drift, the Court of Appeal has dealt a blow to their hopes for accountability. 

The Court of Appeal has ruled against a challenge brought by two Pike River mine families against the 2013 decision by Worksafe to drop all charges against the mine’s boss.

Peter Whittall was charged with 12 counts under the Health and Safety in Employment Act in November 2011, a year after the explosion that killed 29 men. The charges did not seek to prove that Whittall had caused the deaths of the men, merely that he had acquiesced or participated in the failure of Pike River Coal Ltd to keep the workers safe, and that he had failed to take all practicable steps to ensure that nothing he did as an employee harmed workers.

The charges were dropped after Pike’s former directors agreed to pay $3.41 million in insurance funds to the victims’ families and the two survivors of the explosion. Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse have been challenging this decision through the courts for almost two years, alleging that Worksafe made an “unlawful bargain to stifle a prosecution in exchange for payment”.

The Court of Appeal today rejected their argument, concluding there was no “improper bargain” between Whittall and Worksafe.

The panel of three judges ruled that events leading up to the payment of the $3.41 million and the dropping of charges by Worksafe did not amount to a “meeting of minds and striking of a bargain”.

Although the discussions between Whittall’s lawyer and the Crown prosecutor had “many characteristics of a negotiation”, that did not inevitably lead to the conclusion that the decision to drop all charges was a “bargain”.

The court found that the “arrangement” to pay $3.41 million would not necessarily be accepted by Worksafe. The proposal to pay the money was a “conditional reparation undertaking” whereby, in the event that the prosecution was terminated, the payment would be made.  It was up to Worksafe to decide whether to pursue the prosecution.

Worksafe took the $3.41 million payment into account in deciding to drop the charges, but the court found “there is nothing improper about that”.

The Worksafe executive who made the decision to drop the charges had no financial interest in the outcome or the “alleged bargain”, did not negotiate it, and “was not captive to a bargaining mindset”.

Whittall was the key driver of the mine’s development from 2005, was statutory mine manager at various times and was chief executive of the company at the time of the disaster. The company itself was prosecuted in 2013 and ordered to pay a record fine and $3.41 million in reparations to the families, but it was unable to pay the money because it had gone broke three weeks after the explosion.

Follow the Listener on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to the weekly newsletter. 

MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Donald Dux: An extraordinary year of President Trump
84715 2017-12-15 00:00:00Z World

Donald Dux: An extraordinary year of President Tru…

by Paul Thomas

Paul Thomas has chronicled the Trump presidency since its beginning and reviews the extraordinary year since The Donald entered the White House.

Read more
Former punk Kody Nielson is heading in a new direction
84445 2017-12-15 00:00:00Z Music

Former punk Kody Nielson is heading in a new direc…

by James Belfield

But it’s no less entertaining.

Read more
The 10 Best Tech Gadgets of 2017
85128 2017-12-15 00:00:00Z Technology

The 10 Best Tech Gadgets of 2017

by Peter Griffin

A round-up of the best and grooviest gadgets from 2017 and previews of top tech tempters for the new year.

Read more
Cervical-cancer screening tests are about to change
84383 2017-12-15 00:00:00Z Health

Cervical-cancer screening tests are about to chang…

by Nicky Pellegrino

Cervical-cancer screening tests have been helping to save lives for more than 25 years. Now the focus of the tests is going to change.

Read more
The 50 Best Champagnes of 2017
85059 2017-12-15 00:00:00Z Wine

The 50 Best Champagnes of 2017

by Michael Cooper

Whatever you call it – fizz, champagne, bubbly, sparkling – wine with bubbles in it is widely adored, especially at this time of the year.

Read more
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – movie review
85062 2017-12-14 11:12:10Z Movies

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – movie review

by James Robins

Star Wars has been cannibalising itself, but The Last Jedi might just be the best one yet.

Read more
Gareth Morgan stands down as TOP leader
85045 2017-12-14 08:27:22Z Politics

Gareth Morgan stands down as TOP leader

by RNZ

The Opportunities Party founder Gareth Morgan says he will stand down as leader of the party.

Read more
Euthanasia bill passes first reading: How the MPs voted
85042 2017-12-14 08:07:28Z Politics

Euthanasia bill passes first reading: How the MPs …

by RNZ

Act leader David Seymour says he was surprised so many MPs supported his bill to legalise euthanasia. It'll now go to select committee.

Read more