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Royal Commission Report into the Pike River Mine Tragedy

Media Release

5 November 2012

Release of Royal Commission Report into the Pike River Mine Tragedy

This media release is issued by Minter Ellison Rudd Watts, lawyers for John Dow, Ray Meyer and Stuart Nattrass, who were among the directors, and Peter Whittall, who was the CEO, of Pike River Coal Limited (now in receivership) at the time of the tragic explosions in November 2010.

Our clients have genuine and heartfelt sympathy for the families and friends of the men lost in the Pike River Mine. Several of our clients worked regularly at the mine at one time or another and knew a number of those men. They feel their loss very personally.

From the outset, our clients willingly participated in and assisted the Royal Commission with its inquiry, as did other staff with key management roles including Neville Rockhouse, Safety and Training Manager, and Doug White, Mine Manager. Their willingness to participate was in contrast to certain other individuals with senior management roles in the Company, including Gordon Ward, the CEO until seven weeks before the first explosion, who chose not to participate or assist.

After the Company was placed into receivership, it did not have the resources to participate in the Commission’s inquiry. Our clients then voluntarily assumed the task of collating and producing many thousands of pages of documents and detailed witness statements to assist the Commission. In addition to producing written statements, several of them were also asked to appear and give oral evidence in the Commission’s hearings, which they did.

Our clients participated in the inquiry knowing that this was likely to result in their own actions being subject to greater scrutiny than would have been the case had they not become involved. They did so because they believed that they had a moral obligation to provide what information they could to assist the Commission, in the hope that in doing so, they might help identify ways in which, if the Government is to pursue its policies of facilitating the further development of New Zealand’s mineral resources, future mining tragedies could be prevented.

Our clients have this afternoon, for the first time, been provided with a copy of the Commission’s report, some time after it was released to the media. It is more than 400 pages in length and they have not yet had an opportunity to consider it in detail.

Our clients acknowledge the Royal Commission’s findings that:

• The cause of the explosion and the loss of the 29 men remains unknown. There are a number of possible explanations of the source of the methane gas and the ignition that the Commission believes caused the explosions.

• The Company set out to create a safe, world-class coal mine. There was no intention on the part of any of our clients for the mine to be developed or operated in an unsafe manner.

• Pike River received advice from scores of experienced local and international consultants and experts at various stages of mine development across a range of disciplines, including geotechnical engineering, ventilation, strata control, electrical safety and methane management.

• Pike River also recruited well-qualified managers, many from overseas, including Doug White, the mine manager, who was a former Deputy Chief Inspector of Mines in Australia.

• The Company recognised the need for good training programmes and that miners received comprehensive induction training.

• The Department of Labour’s inspectors were involved in overseeing the mine’s development and operation. The Department of Labour did not have the necessary focus, capability or strategies. The Commission recommends the establishment of a new regulator with a focus on health and safety. Many changes to mining regulations are required.

• The Commission’s report recognises that everyone did their best in the harrowing circumstances following the explosions to assist the families and emergency agencies in every way they could. Our clients are grateful to the many agencies and experts that assisted with the emergency response and they were as disappointed as everyone else involved in the response to hear evidence and criticism of its shortcomings during the Commission.

Our clients will consider in more detail a number of findings, both in relation to themselves and more generally, that they do not agree with and which they do not consider justified on the evidence presented to the Commission.

In particular, Messrs Dow, Meyer and Nattrass note the following:

• They disagree with any suggestions that the board did not act appropriately with regard to management of health and safety at the mine.

• They note that there has been much comment with the convenient benefit of hindsight about matters, such as the location of the main fan underground, that were known to the Department of Labour mine inspectors, the union and many others but did not attract adverse comment in relation to safety at the time.

They may wish to respond to those findings in more detail later.

As they reflect on the tragic loss of life at the Pike River Mine, as they have done every day since the explosions, our clients reiterate their condolences to the families.


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