'Hard questions' for Whittall

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 14/12/2013

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At least three Pike River families want to meet former chief executive Peter Whittall after news his charges over the mining disaster had been dropped.

The families were this week told the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's 12 charges would not be pursued.

Whittall had been accused of health and safety failures related to the November 2010 fatal explosion that killed 29 men in the underground West Coast coalmine.

Many Pike families had rejected Whittall's offer to meet him and at least three other former Pike River Coal directors.

However, Christchurch man Dean Dunbar, father of the youngest victim, Joseph Dunbar, 17, said yesterday it was important for him to meet Whittall.

Two other families had told Dunbar they also wanted that chance.

Dunbar said he was keen to find out whether Whittall felt a sense of remorse over his actions in contributing to the disaster.

"I want to know where he's coming from," he said.

"I want to know if he thinks he's innocent.

"It's giving them an opportunity to say sorry, to fully apologise for killing my teenage son. There are some really hard questions that I need to ask Peter, but they're between Peter and me."

His son's sole sibling, 10-year-old half-sister Jorja Dunbar, missed her big brother greatly, he said.

The spokesman for most Pike families, Bernie Monk, said some families indicated they were keen to meet Whittall and other directors when they discussed his offer at Wednesday night's meeting, but most said no.

However, some had since changed their minds, he said.

"Personally, I'll never meet with him," said Monk, whose son, Michael, 23, was killed in the blast.

Most families would "let the dust settle" before making plans for their next move.

Carol Rose, the mother of Stuart Mudge, said families would be contacted over coming days to assess who wanted to meet Whittall.

However, most families remained focused on ensuring the men's bodies were recovered from the mine, she said.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Key figures in the Pike River disaster have moved overseas, hampering efforts to prosecute former chief executive Peter Whittall. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment was unable to force them to return to New Zealand to give evidence at the trial. Ex-Pike managers who are living overseas include former chief executive Gordon Ward, former general manager Doug White and former mine manager Steve Ellis, among others.

Gordon Ward spent 12 years leading the Pike River project before leaving less than seven weeks before the November 2010 blast.

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He moved to Australia to work as Queensland Coal Corporation's chief operating officer but after 13 months his employment "ceased" on the tragedy's first anniversary, according to his then-employer.

Last year, Ward bought a $2 million IGA supermarket near his newly rented $1.2m home in Reedy Creek on Australia's Gold Coast.

Doug White, the former deputy chief inspector at Queensland's Department of Mines and Energy, took the job as Pike general manager in January 2010.

He moved back to Australia in July 2011 to become mine manager for Centennial Coal's Airly Mine in New South Wales.

According to his internet profile, he has finished that job and it is unclear where he works.

After former mine manager Steve Ellis was made redundant from Pike River, he moved to Canada.

According to his internet profile, he had since become president and chief operating officer at Compliance Energy Corporation in Vancouver.

- The Press

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