No individual will face criminal charges over deadly Pike River disaster

New Zealand police will lay no criminal charges on any individual over the 2010 Pike River mine explosion which killed 29 men.

A move which has left the victims’ families feeling disappointed, sad, and angry.

Australian Mining spoke to Jo Ufer, mother of 25 year-old Joshua Ufer, who was one of the 29 men killed in the blast.

Ufer said the decision is “really disappointing”.

“After two-and-a-half years of investigations no one has been held accountable,” she said.

“Basically they [Pike River management] got off the hook.

“The families have to live with this everyday.”

Police investigations began the day after the explosion with the aim of assessing if criminal liability could be attributed to any individual.

In a statement NZ police yesterday said there is insufficient evidence to lay manslaughter charges against anyone involved in the management of Pike River Coal Limited prior to the explosion.

"This has been a very difficult decision and not one taken lightly,” inquiry head Detective Superintendent Peter Read said.

Police said there is ample evidence that there were widespread departures from accepted standards of mine operations.

However they determined there is insufficient evidence to support manslaughter charges because of a lack of any causative link to the specific events which led to the explosion.

Police did say there was enough evidence to support a charge of criminal nuisance but have refrained from doing so for fear it would interfere with prosecutions being pursued by the NZ government.

The mine owner Pike River Coal (PRC) was last month ordered to pay $760,000 in fines and more than $3 million in reparations for breaches of health and safety regulations.

The families of the 29 men that were killed in the disaster along with two survivors were each awarded $110,000 in compensation.

But the company is now in receivership and according to it has just $156,000 available in a post-explosion insurance fund for fines and reparations.

Commenting on the compensation Ufer said she doesn’t know where the money will come from, or if any at all will come.

“I don’t know what happens from here,” she said.

“Compensation has been awarded but where that money comes from I don’t know.”

The amount of compensation awarded to families has been labelled “pathetic” by the CFMEU.

Former chief executive of the mine Peter Whittall is currently facing 12 health and safety charges over alleged failures relating to the explosion.

Pleading guilty last year, Australian-based company VLI Drilling was fined $40,000 over health and safety breaches.

Read said he understood victims’ families would be disappointed but said the inquiry was meticulous and one of the most complex undertaken by NZ police.

Ufer said if anything can come from this tragedy it’s that worker’s safety should always be a company’s top priority.

“If a valuable lesson can be learnt from this, it is that companies need to look after their workers, their most valuable asset,” she said.

“Nothing can bring them back once they are gone.”

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.