14 Sep 2011

Police questioned further over mine operation

1:34 pm on 14 September 2011

Police have been defending the fact that mines experts and police were in different locations in the aftermath of the Pike river mine disaster last year.

Assistant Commissioner Grant Nicholls was giving evidence for the third day to a Royal Commission being held in Greymouth into the deaths of 29 men killed in a series of explosions at the West Coast mine last November.

Counsel assisting the Commission said that having incident controller Superintendent Gary Knowles in Greymouth and mines experts at the pit head was contrary to emergency management guidelines.

Assistant Commissioner Nicholls replied there was scope for discretion in those guidelines, and realities such as the facilities available and Superintendent Knowles's other duties had to be considered.

He said Superintendent Knowles was in regular contact with the agencies and the communication networks "were not ineffective."

Earlier, Assistant Commissioner Nicholls was asked whether either he or Superintendent Knowles had any experience of running a mines rescue operation.

He said they had not, but also said the main issue was not detailed experience of a particular business but coordinating emergency management. He said specialist knowledge did not always apply in other emergencies either.

He was then asked about access to mining managers, the Mines Rescue Service and experts from Queensland one day after the first explosion on 19 November last year.

The Assistant Commissioner agreed with counsel that might have been the best time for experts to take over operational decision-making but was emphatic they should not take over the position of incident controller, which remained in the hands of the police.