Pike River firm opts not to fight charges

Former Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall
Former Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall
Pike River Coal Ltd did not fight 10 charges in the Greymouth District Court today arising from the fatal mine explosion that killed 29 men underground in November 2010.

Company lawyers did not enter a plea, but the mine's Australian contractor Valley Longhall International admitted three separate charges. Both parties were convicted and the cases adjourned until October for sentencing.

Former Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall did not appear in court on 12 charges and was remanded until October.

Pike River family members crammed into the public gallery wearing yellow ribbons.

Judge Tony Couch acknowledged the large presence and noted in relation to Mr Whittall's no-show that he was "very conscious these charges have been adjourned several times before".

Mr Whittall's lawyers Stuart Grieve and Stacey Shortall requested the adjournment due to the volume of information released in favour of the prosecution, recent amendments made to the case and uncertainty about possible criminal charges made by police.

The prosecution did not object to the request.

Judge Couch said he was satisfied with their reasons and granted the adjournment until October.

"There will have to be some exceptionally good reason for pleas not to be entered on that date," he said.

Mr Whittall, Pike River Coal and Valley Longwall International subsidiary VLI Drilling face a total of 25 charges related to failure of methane explosion management, strata management, ventilation management and mitigating the risk and impact of the explosion.

Pike River's receivers PwC said it would not take place in further legal action because the company was in effect a "bare shell".

"Even after the sale, the company owes substantial amounts of money to both its secured and unsecured creditors.

"We, the receivers have no direct knowledge of the matters which are the subject of the Department of Labour's prosecution. Given the amounts still owing to creditors, the receivers do not consider it is in the economic interests of creditors to spend the limited funds available to the company forming a view on the merits of the prosecution or any defences to it."

The company said it was a "pragmatic decision given the circumstances".

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