Former Pike River Coal boss Peter Whittall won’t have to stand trial on health and safety charges over the mine tragedy, upsetting the victims’ families.
Health and safety prosecutors are denying the reparations offer they accepted from former Pike River Coal boss Peter Whittall is “blood money”.
All 12 health and safety charges against the Australian mining executive have been dropped after the Crown told Christchurch District Court on Thursday that their chances of convicting him were low.
This was in part because a number of witnesses were not prepared to front up in court, others weren’t prepared to sign briefs of evidence, and some experts clashed in their evidence.
It had been alleged Mr Whittall, who was chief executive of Pike River Coal for six weeks before the 2010 explosions, participated or knew about safety breaches at the mine.
Unions and upset family members of some of the 29 miners who died in the explosions have described Mr Whittall’s offer to pay the victims’ families and survivors $110,000 each – accepted by prosecutors – as “blood money”.
Geoffrey Podger, the acting deputy chief executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s health and safety group, said legal advice was taken before deciding to accept the offer.
“The issue of whether people have sought to make amends is a relevant factor,” he told Radio New Zealand.
“But if the case had been strong enough to go to trial, we would have done so.”
The amount Mr Whittall has offered to pay, which will come from insurance and from legal costs he won’t now have to meet, is the same as Pike River Coal was fined when it admitted charges, but which it wasn’t able to pay due to receivership.
Mr Podger denied suggestions the fact the case could shine attention on failings of the ministry’s predecessors, the Department of Labour, was part of the reason for not prosecuting, saying independent legal advice from the crown solicitor was taken.
“We have always said that our performance over Pike River was unsatisfactory,” he said.
Family members said the men who died would not now get justice.
Mr Whittall’s lawyer, Stacey Shortall, said the dismissal of the charges meant that money which otherwise would have been spent on the legal case could now be used to compensate the families.
She told Radio New Zealand there were fundamental flaws in the prosecution case.