Judge slams Pike River

By Tui Bromley

Family members who cried yesterday as they read their victim impact statements, applauded today as Judge Jane Farish fined Pike River Coal Ltd (in receivership) and ordered it to pay them
$3.41 million in reparation for the lives of 29 men lost in the 2010 mining disaster.
In the Greymouth District Court, Judge Farish described the tragedy as “the health and safety event of this generation,” fining the company $760,000.
“It’s hard to imagine one worse,” the judge said, setting a reparation figure of $110,000 to the families of each of the 29 victims.
The two survivors of the underground explosion, Russell Smith and Daniel Rockhouse, were also each awarded $110,000 as the judge said they had suffered the same emotional and psychological trauma as the families of the deceased.
Judge Farish slammed the Pike River company for a “total lack of remorse” and claims that it could not afford to pay reparation to the families.
“It is not often a company steps back and holds its hands up and says ‘I have nothing’. Even a company in a fragile state usually comes forward and offers reparation, but here nothing has been forthcoming.
“I am satisfied the company has the means to pay either by existing shareholders or a combination of the shareholders and directors. I note that the directors have significant insurance.”
Judge Farish set a starting point of $860,000 for the fine, then discounted it by 10% because the company had been co-operative with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment investigation, openly offering access to its records. It was close to the maximum that she could impose: “This as as close to the worst kind as one can see.”
She also had discretion to further reduce the fine for expressions of remorse and offers to make amends, but in the case of Pike River, none had been forthcoming.
“There has been a total absence of remorse and no offer to make amends,” she said.
“Fines are designed to be a general deterrence but also in this case to condemn the practices of this company. Therefore, notwithstanding the financial situation of this company, I impose a fine of $760,000 to meet the very egregious breaches of the Health and Safety Act.
“The hazards were well known and the dangers apparent, but the health and safety issues were not given priority.”
The public gallery erupted in spontaneous applause when the final decision was announced.
Pike River Coal receivers, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, were also in the judge’s sights, saying they had been “unwilling or unable” to disclose what the true insurance payout was and unwilling or unable to disclose an outstanding insurance claim that was in dispute.
Judge Farish said the victim impact reports read to the court yesterday had been “harrowing,” in particular the inability of the families to retrieve the bodies from the mine.
“The Paparoa Range is not the gravestone that they choose for their loved ones.”