Crucial evidence from New Zealand mine disaster missing
13 March 2019
Family members of some of the men killed in New Zealand’s 2010 Pike River Coal (PRC) mine disaster have denounced the failure by police and the Department of Labour (now called WorkSafe) to keep track of evidence that could hold vital information about what caused the explosion.
The precise cause of the underground explosion on November 19, 2010, which killed 29 men in the mine on the West Coast of the South Island, has not been established because the mine has not been re-entered.
A royal commission in 2012 found that the PRC board of directors “did not… protect the workforce from harm” and ignored “numerous warnings of a potential catastrophe.” The mine had no suitable emergency exit, faulty methane gas sensors and inadequate ventilation. The company, which was in debt to its shareholders, did not undertake necessary improvements because it would have slowed production.
No one has been held accountable for the catastrophe. In 2013, PRC was found guilty of multiple health and safety violations but did not pay a fine or reparations because it was bankrupt. Similar charges against PRC chief executive Peter Whittall were dropped in a sordid agreement between his lawyers and the Department of Labour (DoL). Police also decided not to lay any charges.
For years, the families of those killed have fought for the mine to be re-entered and forensically examined, and for the prosecution of those responsible for PRC’s appalling lack of safety. They have faced countless obstacles, including the suppression by police of video footage taken inside the mine and attempts by the 2008–2017 National Party government to permanently seal the mine entrance.