Police increase presence at Pike River protest on West Coast
Police have ramped their supervision of the Pike River mine protest, with up to 15 officers now at the site.
Some family members and supporters of the 2010 West Coast mining disaster victims have been protesting the mine being sealed at the access road since November 12.
Protest leader Tom Daly said there were more police officers at the protest than ever before.
"There must have been 14 or 15 of them. Up to this we've had one show up. Two officers came this morning and asked us to shift our vehicles blocking the road. We moved the vehicles and then stood in front of the gate. That's when more turned up," he said.
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The police officers, overseen by West Coast area commander Mel Aitken, unlocked the gate for Solid Energy workers to drive through.
A police spokeswoman said the officers were at the mine "to facilitate the entry of four cars carrying workers".
The vehicles were able to enter without incident, she said.
Daly, a close friend of family members, attended a meeting with families and Solid Energy at the Greymouth Police Station on Wednesday.
He said chief executive Tony King refused to meet the families' experts to discuss a drift re-entry.
"He was like a robot. He was saying exactly what he'd been told to say. We just asked him to listen to our experts and without blinking he said no. Just like that. It blew me away," he said.
King told media he met with the families at the suggestion of police to diffuse the situation. However, police say they only facilitated the meeting.
Solid Energy is sealing the mine with a 20-metre thick concrete wall to allow the area to be returned to the Department of Conservation for inclusion in the Paparoa National Park. The families say international experts and Mines Rescue say it is safe to enter the drift – a 2.5km tunnel leading into the mine. They believe it is possible to retrieve any bodies which may be in the drift.
Environment Minister Nick Smith previously said it was not safe to enter the mine because of high methane levels, a likelihood of further explosions and rock fall. He said the mine had never been safe because it only had one exit route.
"There will always be differences in opinion but the only opinion that matters is the person that has legal responsibility," he said.
Dame Fiona Kidman said she would join the protest on Friday.
The plan to permanently seal the mine was a "travesty which should anger all New Zealanders", she said.
"These families have stood bravely, now it's time for the rest of New Zealand to stand with them. That's why I'm going."