12 Nov 2011

Peter Whittall charged over Pike mine disaster

5:51 am on 12 November 2011

The former chief executive of Pike River Coal, Peter Whittall, is one of three parties charged by the Department of Labour over the Pike River mine disaster in which 29 men died last year.

The other parties are two companies - Pike River Coal itself, which is in receivership, and Valley Longwall International Drilling (VLI).

In the Greymouth District Court on Thursday the department lodged 25 charges against three parties under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, alleging health and safety failures at the mine, but all details were suppressed.

Suppression was lifted following a teleconference between all parties on Friday afternoon.

Mr Whittall faces 12 charges, Pike River Coal 10 and Valley Longwall International three.

A lawyer for Mr Whittall say the charges against him generally allege that he failed to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of workers at the mine.

She says Mr Whittall firmly denies the charges and will vigorously defend them.

A statement issued by Mr Whittall's lawyers, Minter Ellison Rudd Watts, says he is a coalminer who says he would never do anything to put men who worked with him at risk, and will fight being scapegoated.

Hopes way mining is practised will change

The Engineering, Printing & Manufacturing Union says it is glad the three parties facing charges have been named.

Assistant national secretary, Ged O'Connell, told Checkpoint he hopes the charges will lead to a change in the way mining is practised in New Zealand so that a similar disaster never happens again.

Mr O'Connell said he was surprised to hear that VLI Drilling, one of the mine's contractors, has been charged because so far its involvement in the disaster hasn't been clear.