Pike boss consults on safety

Last updated 05:00 29/01/2012
Peter Whittall
NEW BUSINESS: Peter Whittall has formed a new business which consults on issues such as mine safety.

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The former mines boss charged over alleged failings leading up to the deaths of the Pike River 29 has founded a new business which consults on issues such as mine safety.

Peter Whittall, the former chief executive of Pike River Coal, has formed Wellington-based Peter Whittall & Associates and is offering mining consultancy services.

Last November, the former mine boss was one of three parties who had charges laid against them by the Department of Labour following the Pike River tragedy, which killed 29 men.

Twelve charges were laid against Whittall under the Health and Safety and Employment Act 1992.  Charges have also been laid against Pike River Coal Ltd and VLI Drilling Pty Ltd.

Whittall's role at Peter Whittall & Associates is described on his LinkedIn page as: "Consulting across a broad range of technical, safety, commercial and management issues, primarily across the minerals industry.''

It said: "Peter Whittall brings close to 30 years experience as a coal miner and mining executive to his role as CEO. Prior to his appointment as Chief Executive, he was Pike's General Manager Mines, a position he held since joining Pike in 2005.

"During that time he was responsible for all operational aspects of the business including mine design and development, and the essential areas of safety and environment. Peter has also been involved in the broader Pike River issues of coal marketing and capital raisings.''

The biography makes no mention of the tragedy which saw Pike River go into receivership, a development which ultimately led to his redundancy.

Neither does it mention the charges laid by the Department of Labour.

Whittall could not be contacted for an interview over his new business venture. His lawyer, Sarah Shortall, of the Minter Ellison Rudd Watts firm, also declined to talk.

Shortall said Whittall had been instructed not to make any comments until after the completion of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the explosion at Pike River.

"I suspect you won't be able to track him down,'' Shortall said.

"In the circumstances he is just not making any public comment on anything as this juncture. There may come a time when that [talking about Peter Whittall & Associates] is more appropriate.

"But at this stage he is determined, in consultation with us, that he is not making any comment. ''

A website for the company is currently under construction, with a message on the site saying it would be "up and running shortly''.

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Whittall's employment at Pike River Coal ended on December 1.

A statement issued at the time by his legal team said: "Having chosen not to take voluntary redundancy and leave the company or this country for other opportunities, Mr Whittall's loyalty to Pike and commitment to trying to determine what caused the tragic explosion on November 19, 2010, has been unwavering.

"The lives of many people changed forever at 3.44pm on November 19, 2010, including Mr Whittall's.

"Coalminers are renowned for their resolve and toughness, yet it is with deep sadness that Mr Whittall  who has been a coalminer for over 30 years  leaves Pike. Mr Whittall intends to remain in New Zealand to continue with the current inquiries.''

Two weeks earlier, his lawyers had released another statement after the Department of Labour laid the 12 charges against him.

It indicated he would defend the charges, each of which carries a maximum fine of $250,000. "Whittall is a coalminer. He comes from a coalmining town and has worked in underground mines all his life. He maintains he would never do anything to put men who worked with him at risk.''

Whittall has been strongly criticised during the ongoing Pike River Royal Commission of Inquiry, including claims from the families of those who died in the disaster that he had given them "false hope'' their loved ones may have survived the initial explosion. Whittall told the inquiry those comments had left him "devastated''.

Whittall's management style has also been questioned during the hearing, with claims that unsafe mining practices - such as putting plastic bags over gas sensors - occurred during his reign.

- Sunday Star Times

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