Pike River 'cannot meet commission requirements'


Pike River Coal cannot afford to meet the requirements of the Royal Commission’s Inquiry into the mining disaster which claimed the lives of 29 men, the preliminary hearing has been told.
A lawyer representing Pike River Coal Ltd, Stacey Shortall, raised several concerns with the commission including the company’s financial position, parallel proceedings such as the Department of Labour and police joint investigation, and some procedural matters.
She said Pike River Coal had been unable to secure funding to help it provide written witness briefs in advance, compilation of documents and other requirements of the commission.
However, the company anticipated it could have legal representation at the hearing.
Pike River was committed to assisting the commission get answers to its questions and previously fully co-operated with the inquest into the men’s deaths.
“The issue is that the company does not currently have the financial resources that are required to assist the commission as it had been requested to,” she said.
That did not reflect the company’s desire to cooperate, she said.
“The situation is an unfortunate consequence of explosions in the company’s main asset (Pike River Coal mine).”
The company was put into receivership in December 2010.
Earlier the commission was told the families of the 29 men killed in the Pike River Coal mine disaster want the truth and nothing less,.
Nicholas Davidson QC, who represents some of the families, told the commission what role the families wanted to take during the inquiry. “Their intent is to get to the truth whatever that may be...they are also determined to learn what must be done to prevent a recurrence,” he said.
He raised concern about “inherent problems” of the timetable and raised some reservations about the four-phase setup.
The Royal Commission’s hearings are organised into four phases, the first of which will examine New Zealand’s regulatory environment and the geography, approval and development of the mine.
The second phase will explore the search and rescue operation, and the cause of the deaths, the third phase the cause of the explosions and Pike River Coal’s practices, while the last will focus on policies governing mining.
However, Justice Graham Panckhurst, head of the inquiry, interrupted to make it clear the phases were not rigid and there was some flexibility.
Mr Davidson said the families had not been conducting their own inquiries into the disaster, as a memorandum to the commission had suggested.
The families had no investigators or expert witnesses and understood their role was to assist: “We are looking for solutions, not to raise obstacles, of course.”
Families were concerned that a Department of Labour’s health and safety investigation into the tragedy could affect the commission’s findings, he said.
Mr Davidson was followed by police counsel Simon Moore, who said police were committed to assisting the commission as much as humanly possible but operational demands, under the hearing’s time frame, might create difficulties.
“It’s a homicide investigation of huge proportions,” Mr Moore told the commission. More than 200 witnesses had been interviewed, with about another 170 still to be interviewed and about 20 witnesses who were overseas.