Former Pike River boss denies safety charges

Peter Whittall, the former head of Pike River, has today denied charges that the company failed to ensure a safe work place at the mine.

Facing the Greymouth District Court, Whittall's charges include allegations he failed is his duty of care to protect workers from harm relating to methane, of poor ventilation management, and failure to mitigate explosion risk and impacts, according to Stuff.co.nz.

His lawyer this morning told the court that Whitall had pled not guilty to all charges.

The plea drew antagonism from the families of the men lost in the Pike River mine disaster, who reportedly muttered "surprise, surprise" at the news.

It comes nearly two years after the tragedy in November 2010, where 29 men lost their lives in an underground coal mine explosion at the Pike River mine.

It took more than a year for the Royal Commission to come to an end, which was then extended again based on new evidence from former chief Peter Whittall.

While the Commission was still ongoing, charges were laid against a number of parties, including Whitall.

At the time, Greymouth mayor Tony Kokshoorn stated that "there was a duty of care to ensure safety here and someone's got to be accountable so this sort of thing doesn't occur in the future".

Whitall believes that in the search to find someone accountable he has been made a scapegoat for the incident, as he is the only individual to face charges.

His lawyer, Stacey Shortfall, stated that "Whittall is a coal miner; he comes from a coal mining town and has worked in underground mines all his life. He maintains that he would never do anything to put men who worked with him at risk".

However, Pike River was not only known to be historically gassy, but evidence has emerged that steps were taken to circumvent safety regulations.

At one point it was reported that the gas sensors in the mine were even covered, impairing their gas detection ability, so that work could carry on unimpeded.

The case against Whitall will next be heard in March 2013.

 

Image: NZPA

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