Police: no criminal charges over Pike River

NICOLE PRYOR, ANNA TURNER AND JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 20:48 17/07/2013

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Police have announced there will be no criminal charges laid over the Pike River Mine disaster.

During a meeting this evening, the families of the 29 workers killed in the November 2010 blast were told there was not enough evidence to lay manslaughter charges.

It was a "very difficult decision and one not taken lightly," said Detective Superintendent Peter Read, who lead the inquiry team.

"I informed the families of the 29 men this evening and I know they will be very disappointed. I can only give them my absolute assurance that we have been meticulous in our investigation and consulted widely as the inquiry progressed."

Police found there was enough evidence to support a charge of criminal nuisance, but would not go ahead because of the ongoing prosecutions led by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Going ahead with this charge could raise issues of double jeopardy, said police.

He said the decision was based on the best information available to police, and if at some point in the future re-entry to the mine was achieved, a scene examination could be completed.

However, there was no certainty that would bring any new, relevant information to the case.

There had been "nothing but bad news" for the families Grey District Mayor Grey Tony Kokshoorn told Campbell Live.

He said it was devastating news and he was starting to worry about the families.

"I'm starting to worry about people here on the West Coast," he said.

"We need to take stock... and think although we aren't laying charges, let's start the healing process."

He told Campbell Live they were devastated no criminal charges were being laid, but they had to move on.

Melissa Byrne, whose fiancee Samuel Peter Mackie, 26, died in the mine explosion, said the decision was "wrong".

The families gathered sat in total silence after the announcement.

"We've never been that quiet," she said.

"It was such a weird silence. I don't think any of us knew what to say."

She said their men deserved justice.

"[When] people are murdered . . . people fight to get the guilty people charged and punished. As far as I'm concerned, it should be the same [for Pike]."

She had tried not to get her hopes up ahead of the meeting, which she was informed of last week.

Byrne said tonight's announcement was just another "broken promise".

"It was tough. What do you tell the kids?"

"Every time I get told bad news I feel like we're back at day one. That's the hardest part."

Mackie had learned of her surprise pregnancy four weeks before his death.

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Byrne gave birth on July 1 and named the boy after his father - Sam Conrad Byrne-Mackie.

She said the families' main goal remained to get the bodies out of the mine.

"We want them home. We're not going to give up."

Bernie Monk, who lost his son 23-year-old son Michael in the disaster, said they had expected the outcome but it was still "disappointing".

He said the meeting had been "emotional" for all involved. 

"It still leaves a lot of things unanswered. There were a lot of people that could have prevented this. They have left us down and nothing is being done about it."

The families would now pursue other avenues to get justice, Monk said, including the possibility of civil action.

"We are talking with our lawyers about what else we can do here and other avenues we can take. This is not the end."

Monk believed laws needed to be changed in New Zealand so that Government departments could be sued.

"No-one is being held accountable; that's the really frustrating thing."

Monk said there was a problem proving what actually happened in the mine as there were many different theories. He believed once they were able to access the mine they would be able to prove causation.

"I believe there could still be prosecutions in the future when we do get into the mine," he said.

"We're never giving up until we get answers. We're not giving up on our men."

- Stuff

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