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Pike River families appeal review decision

AAP logoAAP 9/08/2016 Karen Sweeney

Charges against Pike River Coal boss Peter Whittall over the 2010 disaster that killed 29 miners in New Zealand might have been reinstated if he'd withdrawn his offer to pay families $NZ3.4 million ($A3.17 million), the Court of Appeal has heard.

Almost six years after 29 miners were killed in the West Coast mine, a group led by Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse have taken their plea for a judicial review of a decision to drop 12 charges against Mr Whittall to the Court of Appeal.

The original plea for review, supported by the Council of Trade Unions, was rejected by the High Court last November.

They're taking action against WorkSafe New Zealand, who defended the then Department of Labour's decision to drop 12 health and safety charges against Mr Whittall.

Mr Whittall made a $NZ3.41 million payment to the families, $NZ110,000 each, which they claim was blood money for the charges being dropped.

Joanna Holden, representing WorkSafe, said the payment was a factor the prosecutors were entitled to consider, and did so in conjunction with other factors, before dropping the charges.

But she admitted the families weren't consulted about the decision to drop the charges for reasons including that they knew families would be disappointed and because of concerns if news of the payment got out Mr Whittall might withdraw it.

"The offer wasn't legally binding. They couldn't have enforced that," she said.

She added that WorkSafe may have reconsidered laying the charges had Mr Whittall withdrawn the offer of payment or not followed through.

The families' barrister, Nigel Hampton, earlier argued the offer of the money was the primary factor in a decision by prosecutors to drop the charges.

"If the offer of money were taken out, there was nothing to indicate that the charges would then have been dropped, they would have been proceeded with," he said in the Court of Appeal at Wellington on Tuesday.

He said the judge who accepted the dropping of the charges had enough detail about the payment for her to raise an alarm.

"To say ... that 'I am being asked, in effect, to rubber stamp a stifling non-prosecution, a payment of money on condition that the charges are not being proceeded with'," he said.

The principal offender, Pike River Coal, has already been forced to pay record fines and reparation for the disaster.

Ms Osborne's husband Milton died in the disaster and Ms Rockhouse lost her 21-year-old son Ben.

The matter is continuing before Justices Kos, Randerson and French.

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