McCready vows to take Whittall to court

The man who brought a private prosecution against ACT leader John Banks intends to file a single representative charge of manslaughter against former Pike River Coal boss Peter Whittall.

It comes a day after all 12 charges against Mr Whittall in relation to the 2010 mine disaster were dropped by the Crown.

The main platform would be the failure to check for gas levels in the mine, Graham McCready said. "He was in charge when 29 people died."

Mr McCready said there were two matters which needed to be addressed before he proceeded with lodging a private prosecution - a $1000 filing fee for which he is seeking public donations; and making contact with the families of the 29 men who died in the mine explosion to discuss what they wanted to do.

When asked if others could be charged, he said he would start with Mr Whittall.

A lawyer who acts for the Pike River families said further prosecution against Mr Whittall is unrealistic.

Nicholas Davidson, QC, who represented the families at the Royal Commission of Inquiry and has continued to act for some of them on a pro bono basis, said it was unlikely the families could take any further action against Mr Whittall.

"There's no suggestion of [a private prosecution being launched] and, realistically, there's no funding for such a thing. There are enormous complexities around it - a private prosecution in the case of a regulatory offence like this may not be available at all."

Mr Whittall has asked for the $3.41 million which was set aside for his defence to be split among the families of the 29 men who died and the two survivors from the Pike River disaster - amounting to $110,000 per family.

Prime Minister John Key said when he first heard about the payment he thought it didn't look terribly good.

"But ... I guess the decision that the regulator has made and the judge has made, is that's the appropriate next step," he said.

"I mean no amount of money, whether it's the tens of millions of dollars of ACC payments or the essential compensation that's gone through this clause, or the money that was raised by New Zealanders through the trust funds that were established, will ever bring back those brave men.

Mr Key said the families of the men would be "extremely disappointed" by the court's decision, but going through a long court process, which could take years, to end up with Mr Whittall being found not guilty would be even more "heartbreaking".

He said there was "fundamentally nothing that I can do.

It's quite inappropriate for me to try and jump into something the prosecution, a judge and independent regulator have decided wouldn't be successful."

Mr McCready said no criminal proceedings would be filed until the families had received the payout, as there could be a condition on the payment that precludes a payment if the families filed any charges.

The Council of Trade Unions is also considering legal action, possibly a judicial review.

President Helen Kelly told Radio New Zealand this morning they wanted the Government to release all documents, which would allow them to see what had happened, including the role the offer of compensation had played in the decision to drop the charges.

Mr Key said a judicial review of the decision would be unlikely.

Mr Whittall's lawyer Stacey Shortall confirmed he had been out of work since he was made redundant from the coal company two years ago and had had no luck finding work in the mining industry.

- By Patrice Dougan, Matthew Theunissen and Laura Mills 

 

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