The police announcement of a criminal investigation into the Whakaari/White Island deaths was a 'slip of the tongue', Police Minister Stuart Nash says.
Police backtracked on their announcement of a criminal inquiry into the deaths of tourists in the eruption and said their investigation was on behalf of the coroner and will be carried out in parallel with WorkSafe's investigation.
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Nash accepted the announcement may have caused some alarm but reiterated there was no criminal inquiry at this stage, but officers were gathering information and would then make a decision on where the inquiry heads.
"It was a slip of the tongue.
"When there have been deaths, multiple deaths, of course there's going to be an inquiry take place. Police just do this as a matter of course.
"Whenever there has been serious injury, let alone multiple fatalities, then we undertake these inquiries."
"Who knows what will come out of this.
"If in fact it does morph into a criminal inquiry we will let people know".
Nine injured in critical condition
Mr Nash said agencies were still working on verifying the identity of those injured and presumed dead.
Australian Federal police had sent a victim identification team to work with New Zealand police.
There are some in hospital who were unidentified, he said.
"There are still some very, very seriously injured people in hospital. We're not out of the woods yet.
"We're working very closely with a number of agencies to ensure we get this identification right.
"There are a number of people in hospital who cannot communicate because they have significant burns not only to skin but to internal organs.
"Nine are still in serious condition, critical condition, they cannot speak ... or communicate."