6 Apr 2011

Receivers seek cheaper way of taking part in inquiry

11:00 pm on 6 April 2011

Receivers of Pike River Coal say they will go back to the Royal Commission to try and find a cheaper option for its participation in the mining disaster inquiry.

Twenty-nine mine workers and contractors died following explosions at the West Coast mine near Greymouth which began on 19 November last year.

Pike River Coal Ltd went into receivership in December, which is being handled by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Prime Minister John Key says the receivers have enough money and expects the company to take full part in the Royal Commission hearing which begins on 23 May.

The commission held a preliminary hearing in Greymouth on Tuesday during which a lawyer for the mining company told the commission it could not afford to provide all the written evidence and other material requested.

Radio New Zealand has learned that the receivers face a $4 million legal bill for turning documents into legal briefs and attending the 15-week hearing.

The Royal Commission has rejected a plea to provide financial help and Prime Minister John Key says the Government will not assist either.

Receiver John Fisk says they will sit down with the commission to try to find a way to participate more cheaply.

"If we can look at a way to cut our cloth, so to speak, to meet the needs of the Royal Commission within the resources that we've got, then obviously we have to try and do that."

Mr Fisk says the coal company's directors and senior managers have their own insurance to pay for legal representation.

PM says receivers have resources

Prime Minister John Key says the Government believes the receivers have between $4 million and $5 million left to pay for legal assistance.

"We would contest the view that they can't afford to actually pay for legal representation if they want it.

"We've funded legal representation for the 29 families; we've funded legal assistance for the contractors and employees of Pike River, but our view is the company itself - the receivers - have resources."

Mr Key says he expects the receivers to take part in the inquiry and would be expected to answer questions.

Moral obligation to take part - lawyer

Families of men killed in the mine are angry about the receivers' claim they can not afford to engage fully in the inquiry.

In a statement via their lawyers, the families say Pike River Coal should recognise an obligation to assist the inquiry - irrespective of funding.

One of the lawyers, Nicholas Davidson, QC, told Checkpoint the company must take part.

"We believe that there is certainly a moral obligation that they do so because they are actually the company which employed the men, in part, who died in the mine.

"They're responsible for management of the mine and they have an active commercial interest in wanting to know the answer as to what happened in the mine."

Mr Davidson says the receivers have the opportunity to raise money elsewhere and it is not necessary for people appearing at a Royal Commission to have legal help.