Reparation but no revenge

13/12/2013

It’s easy to understand why the families of the men who perished in the Pike River mine are angry.

Anger is part of grief and it must be particularly difficult to deal with when they know the deaths should have been avoidable.

Their anger has been refuelled by the announcement that 12 health and safety charges laid against Pike River mine boss Peter Whittall were have been dropped.

The two survivors and families of those who died will share $3.4 million in reparation.

They were asking for that from the government but now they’re angry that it’s coming from an insurance company.

They’re also angry that they’re not getting justice.

It’s understandable they can’t see through their grief to the logic of not pursuing a case which had little chance of success.

Crown lawyer Mark Zarifeh told Christchurch District Court on Thursday that much of the evidence gathered by the department would have been inadmissible, due to many witnesses being overseas and not making themselves available to be cross-examined. Because they are overseas, it would not have been possible to require them to attend the trial.

Mr Zarifeh said a trial lasting 16 to 20 weeks in Wellington would also be very expensive and not the best use of limited resources.

Mr Whittall and other directors and officers of Pike River Coal have offered to make a voluntary compensation payment of $3.4 million to the families of the victims and two men who survived the blast, about $110,000 each. It is money from the directors’ own insurance that would have been spent on a defence.

The lawyer representing Pike River families told Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint programme the chances of getting the decision not to prosecute Mr Whittall reversed are next to zero. Nick Davidson says he finds it appalling that no-one has been found responsible and the case has disintegrated over the passage of time. . . .

Its’ understandable that the families feel this is unjust and unfair.

They wanted someone to be held responsible and feel that the findings of the Royal Commission, which laid blame at several doors, was not enough.

But wasting millions of dollars and several months on court action that was likely to fail wouldn’t result in justice or fairness either.

There’s talk of further litigation which would simply waste more time and money.

The families have got the reparation they sought. They haven’t got revenge but there’s no guarantee a court would deliver that anyway.

They haven’t got what they wanted but they have got some money.

It won’t bring their men back nor compensate for their loss.

But it will make their lives a little easier and if they can get over their anger, they will come to understand that they’ll only compound the tragedy of their men’s deaths if they don’t make the most of the lives and opportunities, denied to those who died, but there ahead of those who remain.

This might be a little less difficult if unions and politicians would stop pouring petrol on the fire for their own, political ends.

Opposition MPs have condemned the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s decision to drop charges against former Pike River boss Peter Whittall.

They say a decision in the case should have been decided in court not be left up to some “back-room deal between lawyers” to decide whether someone was guilty or not. . .

Whittall’s lawyer Stacey Shortall said said any suggestion the payment offer from the Pike directors was in return for the charges being dropped was “absolutely wrong”.

In court, Judge Jane Farish stressed to media there had been no back-room deal.

But Opposition MPs and the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) argue otherwise . . .

The families’ anger is the normal and natural reaction to their loss.

The unions’ and politicians’ anger is merely fuelling the flames for their own ends.


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