Former Pike River Chief Vows to Fight Charges

Pike River Coal Ltd and Peter Whittall, its former chief executive, face charges filed by the New Zealand Department of Labour over the deaths of 29 miners in an explosion last November.

The only individual to face charges in connection with the Nov. 19, 2010, deaths of 29 miners in an explosion at Pike River Coal Ltd's mine is its former chief executive, Peter William Whittall. The New Zealand Department of Labour announced Nov. 10 that it had filed 25 charges against three parties, but it did not identify them by name, saying they "either have existing name suppression orders in their favour, or have the right to apply for name suppression."

Whittall himself disclosed his name the next day, said he had never asked for suppression, wants to lift a court order so he can be publicly identified, and did nothing to put the company's miners at risk, Andrew Koubaridis reported for the New Zealand Herald. Koubaridis reported the other two charged parties are Pike River Coal Ltd, which is now in receivership and faces 10 charges, including failing to ensure employees' and contractors' safety, and VLI Drilling Pty Ltd (Valley Longwall), which faces three charges relating to maintenance and operation of machinery. The 12 charges against Whittall include acquiescing or participating in Pike River Coal Ltd's alleged failures, according to the report.

According to data still posted on Pike River Coal Ltd's website, Whittall has had a 30-year career as a miner and mining executive. He was the company's general manager of mines prior to being appointed chief executive. The department said each of the 25 charges carries a maximum penalty of $250,000. They followed a 357-day investigation that is the most complex ever done by the department, it said.

A royal commission of inquiry will resume its examination of the explosion on Nov. 14.

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