31 Jul 2012

Judge warns Whittall he must plead on Pike charges

11:06 pm on 31 July 2012

A judge has given a stern warning to the lawyer for former Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall, over his failure to enter a plea over 12 health and safety charges.

In the Greymouth District Court on Tuesday, Judge Tony Couch said he expected Mr Whittall to enter pleas to the 12 charges he faces when he appears at the end of October.

He told Mr Whittall's lawyer, Stuart Grieve QC, there would have to be an exceptional reason for no plea to be entered on that day.

Mr Whittall was not in court, and the case was adjourned until the end of October.

The judge convicted Valley Longwall International Drilling, which was contracted to work at the mine, of three health and safety charges brought by the Department of Labour.

They include failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its workers, who were among the 29 who died in explosions in the coal mine in November 2010.

The company had just employed Joseph Dunbar, who at 17 was the youngest worker at the mine to die.

Valley Longwall pleaded guilty, and will be sentenced at the end of October.

Receivers for Pike River Coal Ltd (in receivership) did not enter a plea, but said they would not contest the nine health and safety charges the company faces.

The Department of Labour withdrew a tenth charge on Tuesday afternoon.

The case will also be heard at the end of October.

Monk believes more charges coming

The spokesperson for some of the families, Bernie Monk, says he's angry at the decision of the receivers not to enter a plea.

Mr Monk believes criminal charges will be laid over the deaths, saying the current charges are not the end of the story.

"There's a lot more to come out of these charges. Personally I think there will be police charges in the future. I think this is a slap on the wrist for what's happened up there."