19 November 2010: An explosion at Pike River Mine, on the West Coast, kills 29 miners.
10 November 2011: The Department of Labour lays 25 charges against Pike River Coal Limited (in receivership); VLI Drilling Pty Limited (Valley Longwall), and Peter William Whittall.
31 July 2012: Valley Longwall International (VLI) pleads guilty in the Greymouth District Court to three health and safety charges and on 26 October is fined $46,800. Pike River Coal’s receivers enter no plea and a year later are fined and order to make payments to the families. PRC did not pay the fine and made only a minimal payment to the victim’s families.
25 October 2012: Peter Whittall enters not guilty pleas.
30 October 2012: A Royal Commission of Inquiry concludes and presents a report to the Attorney-General, Chris Finlayson.
5 November 2012: Royal Commission’s report made public and Kate Wilkinson resigns as Minister of Labour.
10 December 2012: “Prime Minister John Key will personally apologise to the families of the Pike River 29 after a Royal Commission report blamed the Government for lax oversight of the mine.” (Source)
16 October 2013: Peter Whittall’s lawyer, Stuart Grieve QC,writes secretly to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) suggesting that in ‘‘advance of the $3.41 million being made available, it is proposed [with precise terms to be agreed] that … the Ministry will not proceed with the charges laid against Mr Whittall by advising the Court that no evidence will be offered in support of any of the charges.’’
12 December 2013: Judge Jane Farish drops all charges against Peter Whittall saying, ‘‘Some people may believe this is Mr Whittall buying his way out of a prosecution, but I can tell you it’s not.’’ Peter Whittall agrees to pay compensation of $3.41 million to the families of the dead Pike River miners.
‘‘It arrived by Stuart Grieve, nobody asked if they were prepared to offer money – they offered money. Very careful legal advice was taken as to whether it was proper to take this into account at all. We got clear legal advice that we should take it into account, and it was one, but only one, of that factors, and not the predominant factor in the decision that was taken.’’- Geoffrey Podger, CEO, WorkSafe NZ
Stuart Grieve: “This letter didn’t just come out of the blue. That’s not how it happened. Although that is perhaps the impression that seems to have been given by what I’ve read read, that Worksafe chief executive said that the letter just arrived, and we offered money. That’s not how it happened at all. The [letter] needs to be looked at in context. Over a period starting from about, quite early last year, the solicitors for the defendent, Mr Whittle, and I, were getting disclosure from MBIE that very quickly revealed that they had, there were significant problems with the electronic disclosure and then that in turn revealed that there were significant problems with the way the investigation had been carried out because a lot of relevant materials stored on computers operated by all sorts of employees of Pike [River Mine] had not been recovered or retained and a lot of that would well have, could well have been relevent to the defence. There were also significant problems with the evidential aspects of the case.”
Mary Wilson then asked, if the case was looking so bad, if the evidence was looking so poor, what was the advantage in paying $3.41 million to get the charges dropped?
“As a result of all these difficulties, I mean the trial was going to be a long one anyway, but these difficulties which would have had to be contested in court would have made the, on our assessment, the trial would’ve, could have lasted anything between four to six months. And it was going to be horrendously expensive. If this trial had proceeded and the ministry had failed, the families would’ve got nothing. As it stands now, the families ended up getting the reparation that had been ordered by the judge against the company, which was of course in receivership.”
Mary Wilson pointed out to Grieve that the directors hadn’t been prepared to pay compensation, unless Mr Whittle wasn’t charged.
“Well, look, all I can say to you is that the money was offered , the charges were dismissed, but the suggestion that it was a backroom deal, is just quite wrong. This was not something that was just agreed by the prosecution. It was at the Court hearing when the charges were dismissed. The Prosecution said that it was considered on principle and conventional basis in accordance with the prosecution guidelines. It had gone, as we understand it, we were told it was going to be considered by the solicitor-general, so that it went to, you know, significantly high up, in [the] Crown Law office. You know, to say that it was just a back room deal, sort of, is a criticism that’s easily made, but we were told from the outset that it was going to be considered by the Crown on a principled basis and as I understand it and the submissions to the Court confirm it, that’s how it was done.” – Stuart Grieve QC, interviewed by Mary Wilson, on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint
- A secret deal was offered by solicitor, Stuart Grieve, on 16 October 2013, that in return for payment of $3.41 million dollars by Peter Whittle, that the Crown would drop all charges against Whittle.
- On 12 December 2013, Judge Jane Farish dropped all charges against Peter Whittall, and an agreed sum of $3.41 million was offered by Peter Whittle as “compensation”.
- The secret deal was finally made public on 27 February.
- According to Grieve, the Solicitor General was aware of the deal; “It had gone, as we understand it, we were told it was going to be considered by the solicitor-general, so that it went to, you know, significantly high up…”
- Denials that this was not a “secret back room deal” fly in the face of what looks very obviously a secret back-room deal.
- Is this going to be the new ‘norm’ for the justice system in this country – that a person can buy their way out of a conviction?
- Will the government be publishing a tariff for what “compensation” is demanded in payment, according to severity of charges?
- If not, will the Solicitor General, Stuart Grieve, Judge Farish, and anyone else associated with this affair, be resigning their position?
Because, really, this isn’t just a case of something rotten in the state of Denmark…
… this is a case of advanced decomposition.
Heads must roll.
Wikipedia: Pike River Mine disaster
Ministry of Business, Employment, and Innovation: Pike River Charges Laid
Fairfax media: Whittall ‘part of Pike deal’
NZ Herald: Pike River: Labour accuse Govt of dodgy deal
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