Pike River Mine disaster: Families slam compensation payments judgement

Flames erupt from a ventilation shaft above the Pike River mine after the deadly blast (NZPA/AP)

The lives of Fife miner Malcolm Campbell, 25, and colleague Peter Rodger, 40, formerly of Perth, are only worth £63,390 to each bereaved family.

That news was confirmed yesterday when a New Zealand court rejected the families’ appeal for former Pike River Coal chief executive, Peter Whittall, to face criminal charges for the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.

VLI Drilling International pleaded guilty to three charges and were fined $NZ46,800 (£26,975) while Pike River Coal was convicted of nine charges and fined $760,000 (£438,044).

The company was also ordered to pay $110,000 (£63,390) to the families of each of the victims and the two survivors, totalling $3.41 million (£1.97million).

But it emerged the company was in receivership at the time and was unlikely to ever make any payments.

Mr Whittall subsequently offered to pay the sum if the prosecution dropped the charges against him. His insurers eventually compensated the families.

However, Ms Anna Osborne and Ms Sonya Rockhouse, who lost their sons in the disaster, claimed the offer and payment represented an unlawful bargain to stifle the prospect of prosecution against Mr Whittall.

However, the court rejected that argument in a judgment. It confirmed a dozen charges had been laid against Mr Whittall, but were later dropped by Worksafe who decided that, while there was sufficient evidence to proceed with prosecution, there was a low likelihood of success.

This was because of the unavailability and unwillingness of some witnesses. The appeal court added the decision to drop the prosecution was lawful.

The court said: “Worksafe properly and independently considered Mr Whittall’s conditional reparation undertaking, amongst other factors, in concluding it was no longer in the public interest to continue prosecution.”

Despite the intervention of New Zealand prime minister, Bill English, in overturning the Government’s decision to permanently seal the mine, the families are continuing to protest at the mine access road.

Ms Rockhouse added: “We are staying at the picket line to keep the pressure on Solid Energy (the mine owners) and the Government.

“Mr English has agreed to maybe get some boreholes drilled and use robotic-type devices to explore the drift. The trouble with that is, a robot can’t retrieve evidence and can’t bring any remains out.”