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Charges against Peter Whittall not proceeding

Media release
12 December 2013

Charges against former Pike River CEO Peter Whittall not proceeding

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will not be proceeding with charges laid against former Pike River CEO Peter Whittall in connection with safety failings at the Pike River Mine.

In the Christchurch District Court this morning, the Ministry told Judge Jane Farish it intended to offer no evidence on the 12 charges and asked that Mr Whittall be discharged.

“It is very important to understand that the evidence we gathered met the threshold for initially laying charges.  However, as a hearing date approached, the Ministry again reviewed its case against the ‘Test for Prosecution’ set out in the Solicitor General’s prosecution guidelines,” the acting Deputy Chief Executive of the Health and Safety group, Geoffrey Podger said.

“Taking into account the available evidence, the Ministry considered that the likelihood of obtaining a conviction was low. A number of factors were considered relevant and were taken into account in making this assessment”, Mr Podger said. “These included witnesses not being prepared to make themselves available, contests between experts, and other pre-trial issues.”

“There is also the issue of the public interest.  This is a particular aspect of the Test for Prosecution and is not the same as a test of public opinion about the case.   Following careful consideration, the Ministry determined that the public interest was not met by continuing with a long costly trial with a low probability of success.  The issues considered included the low sentence that was likely to be imposed in the event of a conviction; the fact that reparation orders would be unlikely to be imposed; and that the principal offender (Pike River Coal Limited (In Receivership)) has been convicted and fined,” Mr Podger said.

“Additionally, a proposal was made by Mr Whittall’s legal team that subject to charges being withdrawn, he would meet the Pike River families.  Each of the Company’s directors would be asked by Mr Whittall to attend. The proposal also included a voluntary payment on behalf of directors and officers of the company at the time of the explosion of $3.41 million to meet the reparation ordered by Judge Farish at the Pike River Coal Limited sentencing.

“The Ministry sought advice from the Solicitor General on whether the financial offer should be taken into account, and if so, how.   After consultation with the Solicitor-General and careful consideration, it was determined that the offer should be taken into account. However, ultimately it was the low likelihood of conviction together with the other public interest factors weighing against prosecution that led us to the conclusion not to proceed with the charges,” Mr Podger said.

“We also note the successful prosecution of Pike River Coal Limited (In Receivership), with a record fine and reparations being ordered,” Mr Podger said.

“In all of the circumstances, the Ministry did not consider continuing the case against Mr Whittall was therefore warranted,” Mr Podger said.

“The Ministry has informed the families of the 29 men who died of its decision,” Mr Podger said.

ENDS

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