Payout to Pike River families under way

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 26/12/2013

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Some Pike River families have received their $110,000 payout as part of the $3.4 million deal by former chief executive Peter Whittall.

On December 12, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment dropped its 12 health and safety charges against Whittall over the November 2010 disaster at the underground West Coast coalmine that killed 29 men.

It believed its prosecution would fail, largely due to the fact that 14 of its witnesses refused to give evidence.

As a result of dismissing the charges, former Pike River Coal directors and officers agreed to pay $110,000 to each family of the 29 men and the two blast survivors.

It was the same amount that Pike River Coal (in receivership) was ordered to pay in reparation in July and was understood to be insurance money that would have paid for Whittall's ditched 12 week to 16 week trial.

The spokesman for most Pike River families, Bernie Monk, said this week that the court had begun distributing the money and some families had already received their amount.

How it was paid out was at the court's discretion, he said. "The most pleasing thing that I have got from it is [blast survivors] Daniel Rockhouse and Russell Smith are getting some payment, which is well overdue."

The pair had been denied any of the more than $7 million raised publicly for the Pike River Miners' Relief Fund after the disaster, which was distributed to the families of the 29 victims.

Monk, whose son Michael, 23, died in the explosion, said some families were struggling financially and the money would help to ease some of that distress.

"It's not a huge amount for the loss of a person."

When Pike River Coal was sentenced in July, most families gave harrowing victim impact statements and many said they were suffering serious financial hardship as a result of the tragedy.

Monk said the payout had been controversial for some families, who were uncomfortable about accepting it because they felt it had been tainted by Whittall's charges being dismissed.

Several other Pike River families contacted this week declined to comment about the money.

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- The Press

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