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Police deny Pike River video cover-up

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 30/04/2017

Police have rejected suggestions a video showing men walking inside the Pike River coal mine's drift was intentionally hidden from the public, while owner Solid Energy says the footage shows nothing new.

The footage of inside the West Coast mine, where the bodies of 29 workers remain after an explosion in 2010, became public on Sunday night after being obtained by Newshub.

Date-stamped March 15, 2011 or nearly four months after the disaster, it shows men moving confidently inside the drift wearing only breathing masks.

The drift appears undamaged and the robot overheats and emits smoke yet no explosion is triggered.

Prime Minister Bill English says any claims about it being a "secret video" are wrong and it's incorrect to describe the men as being in the drift.

At his post-cabinet press conference, Mr English referred to a statement issued by the Mine Rescue Trust.

"It has said the men were in a container at the opening of the drift - this is, in the first few metres of the drift - preparing the robot to go into the mine," he said.

Mr English said that during work on sealing the mine, men had been up to 300 metres into the drift.

The families of the miners want the mine re-entered but the government has said it's too dangerous.

In a statement, police said the footage had never been hidden from the public.

"We have checked our records which show that Pike River Coal Limited representatives informed families on March 9, 2011 that this robot would be entering the drift," Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement said.

He said the footage was taken by a Western Australian robot and was recorded on March 15, six days after control of the mine was handed back from police.

In a subsequent meeting, families were told the footage was "very similar" to earlier footage and two groups of about 30 people were shown the footage in Greymouth and Christchurch in July 2011.

"We have been open about this footage and have not sought to withhold anything which we believe would be relevant and of interest to the families," Mr Clement said.

In a statement, Solid Energy Chief Executive Tony King said there was "nothing new" in the footage - which shows the robot travelling 1570 metres up the drift.

"The risks around re-entry do not centre around the conditions in the first part of the drift -which is what is shown in this footage," he said.

"As has been previously documented, the significant re-entry risks are mainly beyond the part of the drift that has been explored by robot."

Environment Minister Nick Smith echoed that sentiment, saying it's always been public knowledge that men were working in the drift near the entrance.

"How do you think the seal was built? Those activities go down 200 or 300 metres," he told RNZ.

"I knew men had worked in the first 100 metres putting the robot down."

But Labour Party leader Andrew Little says the footage appears to show that going into the drift doesn't pose the danger the government and mine owner Solid Energy, a state-owned enterprise, claim.

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