Pike families plead for private prosecution to stop

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 13:01 16/12/2013
Peter Whittall
IAN MACGREGOR
PETER WHITTALL: Former Pike River Coal chief executive

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Several Pike River families are pleading with serial litigant Graham McCready to drop his plans to take a private manslaughter prosecution over the deaths of their 29 men.

''We really need to stop him,'' said Carol Rose, whose son Stuart Mudge was one of the 29 killed in the fatal explosion at the underground West Coast coalmine three years ago.

''It's not his business.... It's the families' business who will do it.''

She said today that Pike families wanted to wait until the mine had been re-entered and all evidence gathered to work out what had caused the blast, which would enable police to press criminal charges against those deemed responsible.

''To get a 'beyond reasonable doubt' on a verdict is going to be a difficult thing to do.

''We have a plan. We need to get into that mine first and we need to get enough information first to get a conviction. We want to reel them all in. It's not vindictiveness, it's justice.''

She appreciated the retired Wellington accountant's sentiments but said his intentions risked ruining their chances of further legal action in the future because double jeopardy laws meant people could not be re-tried if a prosecution failed.

Last Thursday, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment dropped its 12 health and safety charges against former Pike chief executive Peter Whittall because it believed the prosecution would fail, largely due to the fact 14 of its witnesses refused to give evidence.

Afterwards, McCready, whose successfully took legal action against ACT leader John Banks over alleged electoral fraud, publicly announced his plans to take a civil manslaughter case against Whittall and had since widened that to include other Pike managers.

Spokesman for most Pike families, Bernie Monk, who lost son Michael in the disaster, said he had phoned McCready to ask him to ''hold fire'' on lodging a private prosecution.

He said families wanted authorities to press charges once the mine had been re-entered and all evidence obtained rather than taking a private case.

''The number one thing is a lot of things have been speculated about what went wrong down there. We need to get down there and once and for all, end the speculation,'' Monk said.

In July, police announced it had no plans to prosecute anyone over the fatal blast because it lacked sufficient evidence for criminal manslaughter charges.

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However, it did not rule out laying charges in the future if the mine was re-entered, allowing a scene examination to be completed.

''However I stress there is no certainty that this would produce any new relevant information. Even if new information was identified, there is no guarantee that it would lead to a future prosecution,'' police spokesman Grant Ogilvie said at the time.

While the 10-week royal commission into the tragedy had a main theory about what caused the explosion, it admitted no one knew exactly what happened because the mine had not been re-entered since then.

Work was ongoing to re-enter the mine's 2.4km tunnel up to a rockfall believed to be blocking access into its main working area, where most, if not all, of the men's bodies remained.

Rose said Solid Energy hoped the mine tunnel would be ready for re-entry by Mines Rescue Service in early April next year.

The families intended pushing for re-entry into the main mine workings once the tunnel re-entry was completed.

''It's not just about nailing someone's arse against the wall, it's about getting the right person or people and getting justice. You can't let 29 people die in the workplace and not face the penalties,'' she said.

''But we don't want to go off half-cocked. [McCready] really will make it a lot worse. If he brings a case now, he will destroy any chance we have of getting justice.''

Meanwhile, Rose had started canvassing families today about whether they wanted to meet with Whittall and other Pike River Coal directors, which was offered last week when his charges were dropped.

 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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