Emotions high at Pike River sentencing

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 13:48 04/07/2013
SON MOURNED: Kath Monk, the mother of Pike River mine victim Michael Monk, reads her victim impact statement supported by husband Bernie Monk.
DAVID HALLETT

SON MOURNED: Kath Monk, the mother of Pike River mine victim Michael Monk, reads her victim impact statement supported by husband Bernie Monk.

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A survivor of the Pike River coalmine disaster has told of his shattered life since the November 2010 blast which killed his brother and 28 workmates.

''I should have died on that day and often wish that I had,'' Daniel Rockhouse said in a victim impact statement, read out today at the sentencing of Pike River Coal Ltd (in receivership) at Greymouth District Court.

''This tragedy has left me feeling tremendous guilt for not being able to help others and questioning why I survive.

''My marriage had collapsed and my wife has returned to Germany with my children due to my anger and behaviour since this event,'' the 27-year-old father of four said.

His statement was read out in court by a lawyer, along with many others by families of the 29 men killed.

Most criticised Pike River for killing their husbands, partners, sons and children and for failing to take responsibility for their actions.

Judge Jane Farish said she would sentence the company tomorrow.

In April, she convicted it on nine health and safety failures and blamed it for causing the explosion.

Rockhouse said November 19, 2010 started out a happy day because he was going on one month's leave at the end of his shift.

He met his brother, Ben, 21, underground in the West Coast coalmine and they joked around as always, oblivious to what was to take place.

''I lost my much-loved little brother, very close friends and workmates that day.''

While he did not hear the explosion and spent a considerable amount of time unconscious, he said the exhausting trudge out of the mine supporting his good friend and fellow survivor Russell Smith ''will haunt me forever''.

Rockhouse had shifted to Australia to work in an underground coalmine to support his family.

''Not a day goes by without feeling fear and regret as I enter the mine.''

He said the blast's financial burden had been significant, such as relocation costs to Australia and having to start afresh in another country.

''I now have little to show for my adult life and the road ahead looks very bleak.''

Since the blast, he had undergone considerable counselling but had gained little benefit from it and was now unable to afford more.

'STILL NO APOLOGY'

The mother of victim Michael Monk, Kath Monk, said the blast had been called an accident.

"However, the definition of an accident is an unforeseen event or one with no apparent cause but in our eyes, this was not the case.

"We are disgusted that to this day no-one from Pike River Coal has apologised personally to our family for the loss of Michael. The lack of accountability of this disaster has been really hard to accept.

"It is really hurtful and insulting that no-one has accepted responsibility. It makes us feel that there is so little value placed on the lives of the 29 men."

The blast had robbed her family of seeing Michael marry, have children and have a successful future, she said.

Michael was a handsome, self-assured young man with a smile that "could light up a room", hence his nickname, Sunshine, she said.

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"Michael's death has been a shattering experience and nothing can prepare you for this."

Her family would continue to fight to have the men's remains brought out of the mine, she said, sentiments many other families echoed today.

Milton Osborne's widow, Anna Osborne, told of her raw devastation at being unable to bring her husband's body home. She was unable to hold a memorial service for him as a result.

She said she had struggled with depression, anxiety and illness since becoming a widow "in the blink of an eye" at age 44,

Negligence by "so many people" had caused her dear husband's early death, she said.

"This was no accident. It was totally avoidable and unnecessary.

"This disaster should have and could have been avoided. So many people at so many levels failed our guys and destroyed our worlds."

The former Labour Department, now part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, had laid the nine charges against Pike River Coal Ltd.

They related to methane, strata and ventilation management, mitigating explosion risk and impact, plus health and safety management for contractors, subcontractors and their employees in the underground West Coast coalmine.

Each charge carries a maximum penalty of $250,000.

- Stuff

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