Pike families hope PM will reclaim mine

ANNA TURNER
Last updated 08:58 13/12/2012

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Families of Pike River victims hope Prime Minister John Key will agree to reclaim the mine where 29 men died, which would help them recover bodies of their loved ones.

Key and Attorney-General and Acting Labour Minister Chris Finlayson will visit the families in Greymouth this morning.

The prime minister wrote to families last week, changing his tone on the prospect of a body recovery project.

Speaking to Radio New Zealand this morning, Neville Rockhouse - who lost his youngest son Benjamin in the mine disaster - said Key had backed away from the idea of body recovery at "warp speed".

Rockhouse told the radio station the topic would be up for discussion again today.

"We would love John Key to agree to that today but we doubt that very much will happen. It would be great if he walked in there and said he's prepared sign off on a tunnel reclamation project."

Rockhouse and the other family members had consulted three experts about recovering the men's bodies.

"We were really put in a position where we had to put up or shut up ... and come up with our own plan," he said.

"Even the pre-amble to their report was that the second part of the plan which was the body recovery was dependent on the tunnel being reclaimed."

Rockhouse said the prime minister was "slightly confused" about what the families wanted.

"The families always said that there will be a two-phase operation - first the reclamation of the tunnel. Solid Energy has the power and influence and control of that tunnel every day, we don't have any influence or control to add access to that. It can be revented and it can be in a staged process."

Rockhouse said the families would accept defeat and "back away" if the tunnel reclamation went ahead but the experts couldn't get past the rockfall.

"If it is beyond all hope getting any further into this mine and experts for first time people have been there and had a look, not robots, but people ... and [they] say, 'look, it's beyond all belief, we can't go any further" then we would take steps to turn that into a burial site and we would back away."

Bernie Monk, spokesman for most Pike families, told The Press Key had been "non-committal" in last week's letter, in which he said he was waiting for Solid Energy to come up with a plan for body recovery.

"The way the Government has done it is they have said encouraged the companies, like Solid Energy, to come up with a plan that is safe and financially viable. They say they will look at it then," he said.

"My answer to that is, the companies are never going to do that."

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Monk said he was going to "lay all his cards on the table" when he met Key at 10am.

"We've put our own plan together based on expert advice and he's had that for several weeks. That plan had how we were going to do it and the costs. I want to know what he's going to do about it."

He said the Government had let the families of Pike River victims down.

"As far as I'm concerned they washed their hands of us when they gave the mine back into receivership. That's when they left us. It's been over two years now. Either we're going to get the bodies back and go ahead with this plan or we're not."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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