Andrew Little on Pike River

Not all Pike river families approve of re-entry

‘Pike River families’ has often been put forward as one unified group wanting re-entry to the mine and recovery of the bodies, but at least one family opposes the re-entry plan, calling it disgraceful.

Recent news reports refer to the families collectively:

Andrew Little on Pike River: ‘Re-entry is about fulfilling a promise to the families’

“Re-entry of the Pike River Mine will proceed. To the Pike River families, to New Zealand, we are returning.”

Pike River relatives on mine re-entry: It’s a ‘truly amazing day for our families’

Friends and family of the 29 men killed in the Pike River Mine disaster say an agreed plan to re-enter the mine is a historic moment of truth and justice.

Sonya Rockhouse, who lost her son Ben in the disaster, told Morning Report the change of government had made a huge difference to the families’ campaign and the previous National government had failed them, she said.

Bernie Monk, who also lost a loved one, said it was a proud day for all Kiwis.

Anna Osborne said it was a historic moment for truth and justice and that the announcement was a “truly amazing day for our families”.

“We fought really hard for our men for a really long time and today, this is a victory for our families,” she said.

“This is a victory for the little people of New Zealand.

Pike River Recovery Agency (Government website): Family Reference Group

The Pike River Recovery Agency works in partnership with the Family Reference Group, who represent the overwhelming majority of the Pike River families.  Here they introduce who they are:

‘Stand With Pike’, the families of more than 80% of Pike victims, have fought hard for answers as to why this happened or, more to the point, why no-one intervened to stop it.

24 of 29 is 82%, so that means up to five of the families are not represented.

And one of those five has spoken up – Mother of Pike River victim: Re-entry plan ‘disgraceful’ (RNZ):

Christchurch mother Marion Curtin says she was left sitting by her phone feeling raw after the announcement of the Pike River Mine re-entry yesterday.

Her son, Richard Holling, never came home after the November 2010 tragedy, but she wanted it to stay that way.

Some people might assume that all 29 affected families considered yesterday’s news as a “victory,” she said, but she was one of the silent many who disagreed.

She said the plan was an “appalling” waste of $36 million.

“I’m just so disappointed. I couldn’t believe that cabinet would sign this off,” she said.

Especially given the lack of certainty, she said, with nobody able to tell her exactly what the mine recovery experts would be looking for.

“I see it as sacrilege, really. To go in fossicking around for remains… to go in just to see what they find – I think it’s just disgraceful,” she said.

Ms Curtin loathed the fact it had become so political. She said the months leading up to last year’s election were especially challenging.

“Some people liked that… the politicians climbing on board. I certainly didn’t. That was my son’s death they were playing with.” she said.

While yesterday’s news had been extolled as a “huge victory” and a relief for the people in Greymouth, Ms Curtin did not feel this way and refuted the idea that she was in the minority.

Different people have different ways of dealing with grief. I’m not sure that that is well enough recognised by the recovery agency and the politicians promoting re-entry.

Following the loss of her son, Ms Curtin said said she had just been trying to get on with her own life.

“I remember Richard with love every day. But for me a good day is when I don’t hear Pike River mentioned. I don’t dwell on Pike River.”

Repeatedly bringing the tragedy up in the news can be hard for some people.

And if the re-entry ever gets to the stage of finding bodies, can they respect the wishes of some families, any families, who don’t want ‘fossicking around for remains’?

 

‘Closure’ may be elusive in Pike River re-opening

The Press Editorial: Pike River decision is a victory for justice

The decision to re-enter the Pike River Mine in early 2019 has been a long time coming and does not have universal public support. Some see it as merely a triumph of public relations and emotion, or of election promises over tough realism.

But they are arguably a minority voice.

That is certainly arguable, with nothing to support this claim of minority dissent.

While it is clear that a lot is at stake for a Government that made a commitment to the Pike River families – and particularly for Pike River Re-entry Minister Andrew Little, who has campaigned so vigorously – most New Zealanders will be both sympathetic to the suffering of those family members who support re-entry and will also see the value of answering questions about a disaster that killed 29 men on the West Coast eight years ago.

Politicians are bad at overusing unsubstantiated ‘most New Zealanders’ claims. While editorials are opinions it’s disappointing to see a major newspaper prop up their views with assumptions.

Those who argue that the grieving families should accept their losses and move on are therefore overlooking the fact that justice has been elusive in the Pike River case.

Crap. Some maybe. But I don’t overlook the justice aspect. What I think though is that the re-entry may struggle to do justice to identifying causes as much as it may struggle removing the remains of the miners (especially all the miners).

For the families who support re-entry, led by representatives Anna Osborne, Sonya Rockhouse and Bernie Monk, the announcement of the re-entry speaks to a dogged determination that is both a tribute to the memory of lost family members and a wider commitment to truth over political and bureaucratic obfuscation.

As Dave Gawn has suggested, there is a good chance there will no bodies in the drift of the mine. If that happens, you can expect to hear a familiar chorus of voices calling the re-entry an expensive stunt. But it will be just as important to learn whether evidence has been gathered that can progress a criminal case and might even lead to the apportioning of blame that the doomed mine’s former manager seems so eager to minimise.

I think there is a high chance of disappointment in the first attempt at re-entry. What then?

NZ Herald editorial: Expensive Pike River re-entry plan does not go very far

There was never much doubt the present Government would grant the wish of Pike River families to re-enter the mine as far as that may be done safely.

The fact those two were able to walk out of the mine after the explosion suggests no others were in the tunnel, but for some of the families, as the past eight years have proved, hope springs eternal.

If the re-entry discovers no human remains, there is at least the possibility forensic evidence will be found pointing to the cause of the first explosion and permitting those responsible to be held personally to account at last for 29 deaths.

A royal commission of inquiry produced damning conclusions of the cause of the disaster based on testimony of those who knew the mine, and the mine insurers have made a payout to the families, but it is possible something found in the tunnel will provide a clearer explanation, possibly even an indictable one.

I think it’s unlikely much in the way of useful forensic evidence will be found in the initial re-entry.

On these remote possibilities the Government is staking $36 million, an extraordinary increase on the $7.2 million plan put to the previous Government just five years ago. And yet the minister in charge, Andrew Little, has obviously chosen the cheapest of three options put to him by the Pike River Recovery Agency.

Little and his recovery agency do not sound sure of what they will be able to do beyond the second chamber only 170m into the 2km tunnel. Little said, “There is a lot we don’t know and will not know until we are confronted with the situation as we find it”.

He added, “This will require agile thinking, the courage to say if we are uncomfortable, the preparedness to re-assess, reset and re-plan when necessary, and knowing when to call it quits”.

Clearly a lot could go wrong.

Hopefully nothing major will, go wrong, but the chances of everything going right may be slim.

But the families that have been pressing for a re-entry for eight years have been rewarded for their persistence.

They managed to successfully play political pressure game.

They have never sounded hopeful that a recovery effort could get further than the rockfall. They must accept this plan could get that far and find nothing of their loved ones. If nothing else, it surely provides the “closure” they need.

Really? I’m not clear on what ‘closure’ actually is (apart from closure of the mine which they opposed). I think it probably means different things to different people.

If it means making everyone happy I’m not optimistic.

Plan to re-enter Pike River mine announced

This announcement is just being made:

Stuff:  ‘We’re going in’ – Government unveils decision to re-enter Pike River Mine

The Government has given the all-clear to re-enter Pike River Mine, to retrieve the bodies of the 29 men who died there in 2010.

While a number of dangers still remained, Little said extensive advice had shown re-entry using the existing access tunnel of the mine would be “by far the safest option”.

Little said it would be an “extraordinarily complex” undertaking, but the process to make it safe had been robust.

“Safety has been our paramount concern throughout this planning process, and supported wholeheartedly by the Pike River families”.

The operation also had the support of the police.

“With their support and advice the drift tunnel will be thoroughly examined through to the roof fall area.”

Work to prepare the mine was already underway. That included venting methane from the mine, pumping nitrogen into the mine, and filling the drift with fresh air.

Additional boreholes would have to be drilled, and that work would get under way immediately, said Little.

“The advice I have received indicates that it is likely to be round February before the re-entry proper gets underway, by breaching the 30m seal.”

I understand that this is a big deal for some of the families of miners who were killed.

But I really wonder whether this is a sensible thing to do. And I wonder what will be achieved, apart from perhaps the removal of some or all remains.

 

Pike River re-entry may be further delayed

Yesterday from Andrew Little:  Significant step in Pike River drift re-entry

Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry Andrew Little has received the report on re-entering the Pike River drift following nine months of intensive work by Te Kāhui Whakamana Rua Tekau Mā Iwa Pike River Recovery Agency.

The Agency has identified three safe and feasible re-entry options to recover the drift:

  • Drive a small tunnel to create a ventilation circuit;
  • Single entry, using the existing main drift access tunnel as the sole means to ventilate the main drift;
  • Single entry with a large diameter borehole.

“I want to acknowledge the work of the Pike River Recovery Agency in getting us to this point. Safety of everyone is fundamental for re-entry, as is the care needed to forensically examine what happened at Pike River to ensure it never happens again.

“I am satisfied that the Agency has been robust in developing the options. Workshops have included technical experts, and partners including New Zealand Police, Mines Rescue, WorkSafe and the Department of Conservation.

“The Pike River Families and their representatives have been also included at every stage. The families have shown extraordinary patience and tenacity, and their contribution has been crucial.

“The explosion at Pike River Mine on 19 November 2010 was a national tragedy. Today we are one step closer to – finally – bringing closure to the families.

“It is my responsibility as Minister to carefully weigh the options, alongside Rob Fyfe’s independent advice. I take that responsibility very seriously.

“I do not intend to make further public comment before a decision has been taken, which is expected to occur by the middle of November,” said Andrew Little.

Little has also talked to NZ herald about it: Andrew Little receives report on options for Pike River mine re-entry

It is looking less likely that any re-entry to the Pike River mine drift will happen before Christmas, Pike River Re-entry Minister Andrew Little says.

Little told the Herald today he would make a final decision on whether it was even feasible to re-enter the drift after reading the report and receiving advice from independent ministerial adviser Rob Fyfe.

Little told a parliamentary committee in June it was possible re-entry could be started by the end of this year but today he pulled back from that.

“I understand that is looking less likely now and it would be the early part of next year,” he said.

But he would give a better timeline on the operation to breach the seal if and when he announced a decision to go in.

“When they’ve had the various experts, including the families’ experts, come together, the conclusion of each of those sessions is that this is feasible. But I’ve got to be satisfied,” Little said.

Little has also yet to ask Cabinet to ask for $10-15 million on top of the up to $23m already budgeted for the recovery.

Other ministers have said that ‘priority’ policy implementation has to wait for the next budget.

This is taking a long time and a lot of money. I really wonder if it is all worth it – and worth the risk. Sure, some families want the remains of miners removed, but it is hard to see whether that will change much.

There are also hopes that the cause of the explosions will be found but that could require a far more extensive investigation than is practical.

Pike River re-entry costs escalate

A ‘concept plan’ for re-entry into the Pike River mine to recover miners’ bodies has been presented to their families by the Minister responsible for Pike River re-entry Andrew Little (actually three alternative options), but with that is a bigger than previously estimated cost.

RNZ: Pike River re-entry: ‘Concept plan’ presented to families

A plan for re-entering the drift of the Pike River Mine has been presented to victims’ familes in Greymouth this morning.

The plan is being described as a “concept plan” with more detailed planning to follow if it is approved.

Minister responsible for Pike River re-entry Andrew Little, and Pike River Recovery Agency chief executive Dave Gawn have been talking to the relatives of the 29 men killed in the mine in 2010.

Mr Little said the families were now discussing the plan and he hoped to give it the go-ahead on Monday.

However, he said he expected they would approve the concept plan.

“My sense is the families are really happy with the level of work that has been done, the quality of ther work. They seem pretty satisfied with it … They’re keen for the project to continue to make progress, so that we re-enter the drift and recover as much as we can.”

RNZ:  Pike River Mine re-entry narrowed to three options

The planned re-entry to the Pike River mine has been narrowed to three options.

Mining specialists, Pike River Recovery Agency staff and family members of the 29 men killed in the 2010 blast were on the West Coast for a second workshop aimed at coming up with a plan for manned re-entry of the mine drift.

A panel of technical experts will now shift the focus to three scenarios which are now being developed further.

The scenarios include:

  • building a new two by two-metre tunnel around 200m long;
  • drilling a large diameter borehole;
  • re-entering the main drift as it is with no second means of egress (exit).

The aim is to try and find out what happened in order to prevent any further tragedies, to give the families closure and where possible, retrieve any remains found in the drift, the agency said.

Dinghy Pattinson, the recovery agency’s chief operating officer, said he was confident they would get back in.

“Any mining activity has dangers or risks involved, so it’s a matter of just identifying those risks throughout the whole process and having your controls in place,” Mr Pattinson said.

“If there was any real danger then that would be a show-stopper, so at this stage all the risks identified – I feel confident we can manage them.”

Recovery Agency chief executive Dave Gawn said they had made bigger steps during this workshop.

“We still anticipate entering the mine before the end of the year, and we still think that’s achievable. This workshop is only step number two in a number yet to take,” Mr Gawn said.

He said among the steps was a detailed risk analysis of the preferred options.

It sounds like they are still far from certain how to get back into the mine, how risky it would be – and how much it would cost, even they they don’t yet know how they will do it.

Stuff: Pike River re-entry could cost $12m more than $23m budget, minister says

The plan to re-enter the Pike River mine could cost up to $12 milllion more than the $23 million budget, Stuff understands.

The Government had budgeted $7.6 million a year for three years, totalling up to $23m, for the Pike River Recovery Agency and re-entry to the mine.

When asked if he had told Cabinet the agency would need up to $12m more, Little said one of the options could cost up to that amount, but others would be less than that.

“We won’t know exactly what the figures are until more detailed work has been done.

While there remains a lot of doubt about how a re-entry would be achieved the expected cost seems to keep escalating.

I understand that some families really want the bodies of some miners recovered (some families don’t see the need).

What if the option chosen is the more expensive one – $35 million – and they get into the mine and they can’t find or can’t recover all of the bodies? What if bodies unrecovered are from families that most want them recovered? What then? Keep spending until they find and recover them all?

What if they can’t find out the cause of the explosions?

 

Pike River – police may re-investigate

RNZ: Police get ready to reopen Pike River investigation

The police are gearing up to reopen their investigation into the explosion at Pike River, in anticipation of the planned re-entry of the mine later this year.

Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers visited Greymouth last week to meet the Pike River Recovery Agency and victims’ families.

Detective Superintendent Peter Read, who led the initial inquiry into the disaster in which 29 miners died, also attended.

That investigation concluded in 2013 with no charges being laid.

The police said if re-entry was achieved they would complete their scene investigation and assess any new evidence and its impact on the original inquiry.

In a statement, a police spokesperson confirmed the officers met with the Agency on 13 June to discuss the police’s role in the planned re-entry.

“Police would have a dual role should re-entry to the drift be achieved,” the statement said.

“One involves completion of the scene examination in relation to the original police investigation. The other role involves management of any processes required on behalf of the Coroner.

“Any new evidence which is identified would be assessed to determine what, if any relevance it had on the original investigation which concluded in July 2013.”

Police said they were also considering seconding an officer to work closely, albeit remotely, with the Agency in the lead-up to the operation.

This morning:

RNZ:  Pike River families: ‘We’ve been down this road before’

Pike River families have told police they have a long way to go to rebuild trust as they prepare to reopen their investigation into the disaster.

A spokesperson for some of the Pike River families, Bernie Monk, said he was pleased the investigation would be reopened.

But he said the families still have ill-feeling towards the police because of how they walked away five years ago.

“There’s a lot of water to go under the bridge before we accept the police coming back into our lives,” Mr Monk said.

Mr Monk said the families have always considered the mine to be a crime scene.

He told Morning Report the families had sat down with the police last week to work through some of the difficulties they had had with them in the past.

Pike River Agency CEO liable if re-entry goes wrong

Andrew Little and Labour intend handing over responsibility of whether a Pike River re-entry attempt is made to the Recovery Agency they are setting up, and if re-entry is attempted and something goes wrong the agency chief executive will be liable. I suspect that applicants for the job may be limited.

Stuff:  Pike River Recovery Agency chief executive liable if re-entry goes wrong, not Andrew Little

The chief executive of the Pike River Recovery Agency will be held responsible if anything goes wrong with the re-entry of the drift.

Last month, the Prime Minister and Andrew Little – the Minister Responsible for the Pike River Re-entry, announced the Government would establish a government department by the end of January 2018 to assess the risk associated with a manned re-entry, and the best way to carry out the entry.

The entry of the mine’s drift, and the recovery of any remains of the 29 men killed in 2010, would be completed by March 2019.

Both Jacinda Ardern and Little said there would be risk involved with a manned re-entry, but it was up to the agency to assess the risk and to mitigate it, and if the level of risk was acceptable, go forward with the re-entry.

Despite promises by Winston Peters and Labour that there would be re-entry into the mine they are handing over responsibility to someone else.

At the time of the announcement, Little said the agency – Te Kahui Whakamana Rua Tekau ma Iwa (The Empowering Voice for the Pike 29) – would answer to him, and as the minister in charge, he would have the final decision.

Apparently not now.

He refused to respond to questions on who would be held liable, under New Zealand health and safety laws, if something went wrong.

However, documents relating to the establishment of the agency show the chief executive of the agency would be held legally responsible if something went wrong.

So Little wasn’t prepared to be up front about what he is organising, and is also handing over both the ultimate decision plus liability to someone else.

A ministerial briefing paper from November 3, said the liability would rest with those instructed by the minister, not the minister.

In order to remove that legal liability, health and safety laws would have to be changed – something the Government decided not to do.

Establishing an independent decision maker from the outset, would provide clarity on who was accountable for the decisions around safety, the briefing document said.

“It sets a clearer level of expectation around single focus and impartial decision making.

“If you wished to retain a departmental model to keep the entity closer to government, then the chief executive … could be given the statutorily independent role of determining whether re-entry should go ahead.

“In addition, without legislation, the Minister could potentially be exposed to accessorial liability in the event that something goes wrong in the course of re-entry activities.”

“A decision about safe re-entry will be best achieved by ensuring the decision-maker is independent,” the document said.

The decision-maker should be responsible for developing “a robust and credible plan” for safe recovery of the drift, including engaging fully with the Pike River families and their experts, and then charged with implementing this plan.

“This provides clear lines of accountability, with the decision maker and implementer of the decision being the holder of the key duties of care around ensuring health and safety.”

Gobsmacked.

December 2016: Winston Peters says Pike River re-entry is bottom line to election deals 

Winston Peters says re-entering Pike River mine is a “bottom line” to any election deal made next year.

In interviews this morning, Peters also reiterated his claim that he will enter the mine himself.

“I’m making no bones about it, we’ll give these people a fair-go, and yes this is a bottom line, and it shouldn’t have to be”.

Any political party seeking New Zealand First’s support to form a government in the 2017 election will have to commit to re-entering the mine.

September 2017: Pike River families give their blessing to Jacinda Ardern as she visits region where Labour started

Ardern met with family members at the Pike River memorial on the West Coast to re-state her commitment to re-enter the mine in which 29 miners died following explosions in 2010.

“After all this time, the least we can do is the right thing,” she told them.

Anna Osbourne, whose husband Milton was among those killed, said she was hoping for a change of Government to ensure the re-entry went ahead.

“We’ve had lies, we’ve had broken promises, so I’m hoping for a change of Government,” Osbourne said.

October 2017: Winston Peters meets Pike River families

Families spokesman Bernie Monk told media in Wellington they knew they had Mr Peters’ support.

“He’s a man of his word, and we’re going to support him the whole way… We’ve got full faith in Winston Peters and what he’s going to do.”

Asked if reentering the mine was still one of NZ First’s bottom lines, Mr Peters responded: “What do you think? How many times do I have to tell you?”

The Labour-NZ First Coalition Agreement specifies: “Commit to re-entry to Pike River”.

October 2017: Pike River manned re-entry possible early next year – Little

The minister responsible for re-entry into Pike River, Andrew Little, hopes to get people in to the mine by April next year.

Mr Little told Newhub’s The AM Show today that he had two comprehensive reports and he believes manned entry is entirely achievable.

“There are risks – but there’s risks [in] doing anything.

“So lets clear all that stuff out of the way, lets look at what we know is there, what we know that the technology and the science tells us is possible, and work up that plan.”

The plan seems to be to make someone else make a decision on re-entry and to be liable if anything goes wrong.

4 December 2017: Pike River Recovery Agency chief executive liable if re-entry goes wrong, not Andrew Little

Ardern was asked whether she was comfortable with the legal liability resting on the shoulders of the chief executive.

“I’m confident that we’re going to go through a process that means we’re going to dot all of our i’s and cross all of our t’s,” she said.

“We’ve given ourselves enough lead time to make sure we do this properly.

“But the point ultimately is whether or not we’re doing right by families and that’s what we’ve undertaken to do.”

Gobbledegook and duckingdeduty.

Advice on Pike River Recovery Agency

Andrew Little, Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-Entry, has released advice on establishing the Pike River Recovery Agency.


Pike River Recovery Agency advice released

Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry Andrew Little has released advice on the establishment of the Pike River Recovery Agency, Te Kāhui Whakamana Rua Tekau mā Iwa.

Mr Little says the Government is committed to being open and accountable, and there will be continued transparency as work progresses on the manned re-entry of the Pike River Mine drift.

“We’ve been up front with the families and public on what we are doing and that remains important in terms of trust and confidence in this process and its robustness.  That’s the sort of openness that this Government is committed to in how we work.

“The families have been clear that safety and transparency are priorities for them and we’re working side by side with them, making sure that they, and their experts, have a voice throughout this work.

“The decision to establish the Pike River Recovery Agency is an important milestone so people should see the information surrounding that decision. Once the agency’s up and running, it will operate on a transparent basis, making sure relevant information is in the public arena.”

The Pike River Recovery Agency will be established on 31 January 2018 by Order in Council. It is expected that the agency will create and execute a plan for complete recovery of the drift by the end of March 2019.

The documents released include the 20 November Cabinet paper and advice provided by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) ahead of the decision to create a stand-alone government department to plan for decisions on the manned re-entry of the Pike River Mine drift.

The documents are available at: 

Pike River prosecution withdrawal unlawful

RNZ: Pike River prosecution withdrawal unlawful – Supreme Court

It was unlawful for WorkSafe to withdraw its prosecution of Pike River mine boss Peter Whittall, in exchange for payments to the victims’ families, the Supreme Court has ruled.

WorkSafe New Zealand initially laid 12 health and safety charges against Mr Whittall, but they were dropped after more than $3 million was paid to the victims’ families.

Earlier hearings in the High Court and Court of Appeal ruled the decision to offer no evidence to the charges was not unlawful.

In October, lawyers for Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse, who both lost family members in the 2010 explosion, asked the Supreme Court to issue a declaration that the dropping of charges arose from an unlawful bargain.

In is defence, the Crown argued the reparation payment was just one of several factors taken into account in withdrawing the charges.

It also had to consider the possible unavailability of witnesses and the fact a trial could take between 16 and 20 weeks.

In today’s decision, the Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal and ruled the decision to offer no evidence was “an unlawful agreement to stifle prosecution”.

RNZ has extensive coverage of this here.