Charges against Pike River boss dropped, victims’ families furious

All charges laid against former Pike River mine boss Peter Whittall over the 2010 explosion which killed 29 miners, have been dropped.

The crown told Christchurch District Court today it would not proceed with the prosecution of Whittall who was facing 12 health and safety charges relating to the disaster 2010.

Each charge carried a maximum fine of $NZ250,000.

After reviewing the case, prosecutors dropped the charges as a result of lack of evidence.

"Taking into account the available evidence, the ministry considered that the likelihood of obtaining a conviction was low," acting deputy chief executive of New Zealand's Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's health and safety group, Geoffrey Podger said.

A number of witnesses were also not prepared to make themselves available.

Whittall’s lawyer Stacey Shortall said “fundamental flaws” in the New Zealand ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment case resulted in the charges being dismissed.

In July Pike River mine was ordered to pay $110,000 in compensation to each of the families of the 29 men that were killed along with two survivors.

The decision to drop the charges has infuriated the victims’ families who have hit out saying they want justice not compensation.

''Compensation … what a joke … that is blood money … that is to clear his [Whittall's] conscience,'' Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton, 54, was killed in the tragedy, said.

'The biggest slap in the face is that it is not coming out of Peter Whittall's pocket, it is coming out of the insurers' pocket. And I am damned sure it is because a four month court case in Wellington is going to cost more than the $3 million payout the insurance company is going to make.

"It is a win-win for Peter Whittall to come off looking like the good guy, and the insurance company that doesn't have to pay more than $3 million for a court case that is going to cost God knows."

Osborne was furious Whittall will not be put to trial.

''What pisses me off is that he has not had his day in court. He has not had to stand in the dock and look the families in the eye and either apologise or explain what has happened,'' she said.

''That is bulls*** … that is absolute bulls*** … so he can feel better. What about the friggin' families who have had to live with this for three years. The only thing that will make me feel better now is for my man's body to come out of that mine.''

Speaking outside the court, Bernie Monk, whose son Michael Monk died in the explosion said: "Justice just wasn't served today for the families”.

"We've always said this disaster made a laughing stock of mining, and the justice system, now, is in the same place."

Joanne Ufer, mother of victim Joshua Ufer said the decision has caught families off guard.

“We’re in shock,” she said.

“It proves companies can just walk away.

“”The compensation doesn’t feel like justice.”

Since her son’s death Ufer has made it her mission to speak up about safety in the mining sector.

 Read her open letter to the mining sector here.

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