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Pike River families lose Whittall appeal

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 16/02/2017

Pike River Coal boss Peter Whittall won't face criminal prosecution over the 2010 mine disaster after the Court of Appeal threw out a further bid by victims' families.

Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse had sought judicial review of a decision by Worksafe New Zealand not to offer evidence against Mr Whittall, the mine company's former chief executive.

Ms Osborne's husband, Milton, and Ms Rockhouse's 21-year-old son, Ben, were among the 29 men killed in the disaster.

VLI Drilling International pleaded guilty to three charges and were fined $46,800 while Pike River Coal was convicted of nine charges and fined $760,000.

The company was also ordered to pay $110,000 to families of each of the victims and the two survivors, totalling $3.41 million.

The company was in receivership at the time and it was unlikely the payment would ever be made.

Mr Whittall offered to pay the sum, and later did pay it, if the prosecution dropped charges against him personally.

Ms Osborne and Ms Rockhouse claimed that offer and payment was an unlawful bargain to stifle prosecution against Mr Whittall.

But the court rejected that was the case in a judgement released on Thursday.

While a dozen charges were brought against Mr Whittall they were later dropped by Worksafe who decided while there was sufficient evidence to proceed with prosecution, there was a low likelihood of success - in part because of the unavailability and unwillingness of some witnesses.

The appeal court on Thursday said the decision to drop the prosecution was lawful.

"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," the court said.

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