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Anguish as families told Pike disaster avoidable

Published: 7:52AM Tuesday April 03, 2012 Source: ONE News

Families of the miners killed in the Pike River explosion were left anguished today after being told the tragedy could have been avoided.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry heard that the Department of Labour was hesitant on re-introducing crucial mine check inspectors in 2008, sparking an emotional response from the families present at the Greymouth District Court.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union lawyer Nigel Hampton said if the regime had been brought in in 2008 there would have been a different scenario at Pike River.

"The union regrets that you (the families) have been the first to have suffered.

"The Pike River Company failed abysmally to protect its workers underground."

Families spokesperson Bernie Monk, said it was emotional to hear the disaster could have been avoided, but said he was "not going to dwell on it", and that he would push for changes in mining.

"We need the inspectorate back here so this doesn't happen again."

The families used their final address to call for the Government to change health and safety laws.

"Out of the shame of this disaster, there must be a system which New Zealand can hold up to the light. That is the least we can accept on behalf of these men," said families lawyer Nick Davidson QC.

"Lest we forget."

Call for criminal offence

The lawyer for the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions has called for a new criminal offence of corporate manslughter charged to be introduced, following the findings of the Pike River inquiry.

"Some of the issues canvassed in the evidence once again raise feeling among the public that the law should be able to fix criminal responsibility on the corporate person itself," said Ross Wilson.

Wilson likened the charge to one introduced in the United Kingdom in 2006, after a car passenger ferry capsized near Belgium, killing nearly 200 people.

The inquiry following the incident showed disorder in the company, which fuelled moves to create the corporate manslaughter charge.

Fines for the charge in the UK start at 5% of a company's turnover.

Victoria University senior law lecturer Mamari Stephens said in order for a corporate charge to be made there has to be a clear causal link between management failure and death.

"These things are few and far between, thank goodness, they don't happen very often. But the harm that can be the subject of debate can be so extreme."

Maori party leader Pita Sharples agreed there needs to be a law in place that relates to people's responsibilities in the work place.

"We have prepared a bill on it and we hope to put it up soon."

Tomorrow is the last day of the Royal Commission's public hearings into the deaths of 29 men in the November 2010 explosion at the underground coal mine on the West Coast.