Pike River CEO Peter Whittall says he is guilt-free

Pike River has hit the news again, with Chief Executive Peter Whittall claiming to be guilt free, while Andrew Little threatens further action without having any new evidence.  Quote: 

Unrepentant former Pike River boss Peter Whittall has horrified the dead men’s families by dismissing a looming manslaughter prosecution, saying he has nothing to be ashamed of.
“Do I feel guilt? No,” Peter Whittall told Stuff. “It is human nature to blame someone.”[…] End of quote.

We feel guilt when we believe, rightly or wrongly, that our conduct has not met a moral standard. When we perhaps think we could have done more, or acted differently which might have resulted in a different outcome. To be guilt-free, Peter Whittall must feel very confident. He must feel certain that he made no bad judgement calls, and in every decision he made, that the safety and well being of his staff was given the highest priority. Ahead of profit. With no compromises made to appease shareholders in order to speed up production and to make the mine profitable.  Quote:

[…] A lengthy Royal Commission inquiry concluded Pike River had a culture of production over safety and ignored warnings of dangerous gas levels in the days before the deaths.[…]  End of quote.

As I have covered previously, Pike River Mine was a disaster waiting to happen.  There were so many failures that each contributed to the disaster, and Peter Whittall was involved at some level in many of them.

In 2011, the Department of Labour laid 12 charges against him under the Health and Safety in Employment Act.  Almost two years later, the decision was made not to proceed with the charges because it is believed there would be a low probability of success, due to witness availability and conflicting expert witnesses.  Peter Whittall’s offer to pay the $3.41 million reparations to the Pike families was also taken into consideration in dismissing the charges.  In November 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that the decision to abandon the prosecution against Peter Whittall was unlawful, however, the court’s decision did not require the prosecution of Whittall to be re-activated.

As a result, Peter Whittall has not been held to account in a court of law for his role in Pike River, a mine that experienced a major explosion, and resulted in the death of 29 men.

No matter what anyone’s personal feelings are about that position, it has been reached according to the law.

The article continues: Quote:

Minister for Pike River Re-entry Andrew Little said he was glad Whittall understood one thing: someone would be held responsible.

“The re-entry programme could lead to further criminal investigation and prosecution,” he said. “This Government is determined to follow through. This is a disaster and tragedy that didn’t need to happen, it happened because of mismanagement and he was the centre of that.

“This is unfinished business, not only for the families but for this Government as well.”  End of quote.

What an outstanding statement from the Minister of Justice, Andrew Little. It sounds like he has already gone into the mine, and found some compelling new evidence that implicates Peter Whittall specifically.  You would expect that of all people, the Minister of Justice would understand and apply natural justice.

The reality is that we don’t yet know that they can safely re-enter the mine, and even if they can, whether they will find anything that gives any greater clarity on exactly what happened. Re-entry may give us answers, but it may also give us more questions.  It’s completely out of line for Andrew Little to make threats about further prosecutions when at the moment, there is nothing new known about the disaster.

I’d like to come back to Peter’s statement that it’s human nature to blame someone.

I can understand the families want some accountability for the loss of their loved ones.  The disaster that took their lives wasn’t an accident caused by a simple mistake.  It was a series of poor decisions by everyone involved, including those who lost their lives.  There were bad management decisions made from the mine start-up, right through to the time of the first explosion.

But unless they are able to re-enter the mine, and unless they are able to find some evidence that conclusively proves culpability, then the families may never get answers.  They may never really know what happened, even if re-entry is achieved. They may never see anyone held to account.

The cost of going back in is currently estimated to be $35 million and will risk further lives, and send the families on another cycle of hope and potential disappointment.  Is it worth it?


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