NZ CEO escapes charges: unions shocked
The dropping of safety charges against former Pike River CEO Peter Whittall has alarmed unions.
Whittall was the CEO of Pike River Coal Limited when an explosion at the company’s mine in the South Island of New Zealand killed 29 miners in November 2010.
He was charged with 12 safety breaches at the mine, following the explosion. This was in addition to the prosecution of the company.
The New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) told the Christchurch District Court late last week that “it intended to offer no evidence on the 12 charges and asked that Mr Whittall be discharged”.
MBIE Health and Safety group acting Deputy Chief Executive Geoffrey Podger said the likelihood of obtaining a conviction was low and it was not in the public interest to continue with the case.
Podger said an offer made by Whittall’s legal team was also taken into consideration. “Subject to charges being withdrawn, he [Whittall] would meet the Pike River families.
“Each of the Company’s directors would be asked by Mr Whittall to attend.
“The proposal also included a voluntary payment on behalf of directors and officers of the company at the time of the explosion of $3.41 million to meet the reparation ordered by Judge Farish at the Pike River Coal Limited sentencing.”
However, Podger reinforced it was the low likelihood of a conviction and not being in the public interest that led to the charges being dropped.
Pike River Coal Limited (In Receivership) has already been successfully prosecuted and fined.
The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU) says the decision to withdraw the charges is wrong.
“It is insufficient for the Department to say the charges could not be successfully proven,” said New Zealand CTU President Helen Kelly.
“The Royal Commission of Inquiry extensively documents the areas where Mr Whittal, in his CEO role, did not take all practicable steps to keep the men safe, and if it is correct that the charges could not have been proven there must have been errors in the range of charges laid.
“The timing of the decision and the lack of time for other parties to investigate the legitimacy of this proposition before charges were withdrawn suggests the Department did not want scrutiny of this decision.”
Published on 19 December 2013 in NSCA Safe-T-Bulletin.