All-round denial of Pike deal initiation

Last updated 08:44 01/03/2014

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All parties deny initiating a controversial cash deal to cease court charges over the Pike River mine explosion.

Pike River Mine boss Peter Whittall's lawyers and the Government both deny initiating the deal.

Fairfax Media revealed this week that Whittall's lawyer, Stuart Grieve, QC, laid out a proposal to make $3.41 million available to the Pike River families in a letter dated October 16.

Grieve said in "advance of the $3.41 million being made available, it is proposed [with precise terms to be agreed] that . . . the ministry will not proceed with the charges laid against Mr Whittall by advising the court that no evidence will be offered in support of any of the charges".

Prime Minister John Key said on Thursday that the offer was unsolicited.

But Grieve and fellow Whittall lawyer Stacy Shortall issued a statement yesterday saying they had been misrepresented, and that they would release documents to prove they did not initiate a court resolution.

Twelve health and safety charges laid against Whittall were dropped in the Christchurch District Court on December 12, when it was also announced a $3.41m payment would be made to the families of the 29 men who died in the mine, and the two survivors.

At the time Judge Jane Farish stressed to media there had been no back-room deal.

WorkSafe New Zealand chief executive Geoffrey Podger said the offer was initiated by Whittall's lawyers. The offer "arrived by Stuart Grieve, nobody asked if they were prepared to offer money - they offered money", Podger said.

Grieve issued a statement yesterday calling for Worksafe to accurately represent the reasons for not offering evidence in support of the charges.

Grieve said: "This is important, because as Mr Whittall's lawyers see it, the way this matter has developed, with regard to their role in the process which led to charges being dismissed, is being misrepresented."

Grieve claimed the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment initiated discussions about the possibility of a resolution last July, not Whittall's defence team.

Grieve said: "It was made clear to Mr Whittall's lawyers that any payment to the families and survivors could not be made in sole return for the charges being dismissed.

"This was accepted by Whittall's lawyers, even though they believed funds could be better used by the families and survivors ‘than paid to lawyers to defend what they considered to be a flawed case'."

Key said the Government played no part in the decision to drop the charges.

"My understanding is the judge made it quite clear the reasons she actually supported the actions that were taken were because it was very unlikely a prosecution would be successful," he said.

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- The Press

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