'Families need justice': Pike River families begin new battle

A minute of silence, heavy with emotion, has been observed in Parliament to honour the 29 men who lost their lives in Pike River mine 10 years ago.

Anna Osbourne, Sonya Rockhouse and Rick (Rowdy) Durbridge, members of the Pike River Families Reference Group, fought back tears as they read out the names of those who died after a series of explosions in the mine.

Before the silence, the memorial service listened to a recording of radio communications from just before the first blast, including a request to speak to Milton Osbourne, Anna's husband.

New push for work safety

The bodies of Milton Osborne and Ben Rockhouse will probably never leave the Pike River Mine workings where they died, but 10 years on their families have launched a new fight to reduce workplace deaths.

"Let me tell you something I know in my bones, because it has defined every second of my last 10 years ... families need justice," Anna Osborne said.

She has occupied roads, lobbied politicians, and has never given up her 10-year fight for justice for the 29 men who died when Pike River exploded.

"They must get their day in court and see legal accountability, to have any chance at recovering and carrying on with their lives. It is the only power they have left."

At the mine site, the Pike River Recovery Agency underground team looking for evidence was today, 2.16km inside the 2.3km-long drift that leads to the mine workings.

The end is more or less in sight, although the 29 men are believed to all be in the mine proper, which is blocked behind a massive rockfall.

Families now say they realise they are unlikely to get the remains of their loved ones back. But they still hope for answers.

"Milt (Osborne) still lies where he fell, 10 years ago today. I know now that I am unlikely to get him back, to bury him properly, to help my children find the closure most people get when a loved one dies," Mrs Osborne said.

They want to stop others from going through their pain, so today in Wellington she and Mrs Rockhouse launched a new push for work safety.

Since Pike River, more than 900 New Zealanders have been killed at work.

"Work Safe NZ's investigations have remained weak, their enforcement poorly resourced, and they most often simply choose not to prosecute. In New Zealand you can, rightly, go to jail for killing a kitten . . . but not for killing a worker," Mrs Osborne said.

"I want the Pike River disaster to become the reason New Zealand changed to make people safer at work and to empower those who have lost loved ones rather than see them swept under the carpet."

The Pike River Family Reference Group has also proposed a 'model partnership approach' between public service agencies and families impacted by tragedies like Pike River, backed by Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes.

"Our experience and the experiences of others we have talked to including people who have loved ones die at Pike River, at CTV and in forestry, is that a lot of the government response has happened around family members without them getting the chance to understand what's happening or have any input into it," Mrs Rockhouse said.

"This isn't something that is done deliberately, but even the best-intentioned work is often done for families rather than with them.

"That's incredibly disempowering for people who have just lost their loved ones and we think there's a real opportunity to use partnership between the government and people who have suffered tragedy to make sure that the hurt of a disaster is not compounded."

- additional reporting NZ Herald


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