The victims' families in urgent need of compensation

July 09 [Tue], 2013, 17:14

The insolvent company has been ordered to pay more than $4 million in reparations and fines for health and safety failings which led to the deaths.

The company, which is in receivership, Art Culture must pay $110,000 to each of the families of the victims as well as two survivors who walked away from the explosion at the mine on November 2010.

It has also been fined $760,000.

Bernie Monk, the father of Michael Monk who died in the mine, said the families had suffered emotionally and financially since the disaster.

"Compensation is vital for some of them, but whether they get any will be another thing," he told NZ Newswire.

Mr Monk was pleased to see the two survivors Daniel Rockhouse and Russell Smith included in the compensation order.

They were the "forgotten heroes" of the disaster and had never received any compensation, he said.

Mr Monk personally believed the families would never see the money.

Pike River's receivers say there is not enough money available to pay compensation.

However, Mr Monk said Pike River investor, New Zealand Oil and Gas, could contribute - something sentencing judge, Jane Farish, indicated.

NZOG would be using Pike River as a tax loss liability and it wouldn't want to see it liquidated.

"It would be better for them to pay out the monies," Mr Monk said.

At the sentencing of the company on nine health and safety charges in Greymouth District Court on Friday, Limited company Hong Kong Judge Farish said she could not put a value on the loss of life or compensate for psychological harm.

She said she was satisfied there were the means to pay the reparations and fine despite the company's financial position.

Its receivers say it has $656,000 in funds and insurance money. It owes almost $52m to secured and unsecured creditors.

Judge Farish ruled that the company made fundamental breaches of the Health and Safety Act which led to the deaths.

The Ministry of Business, Innovations of Employment, which brought the charges, said no sentence imposed could ever adequately reflect the pain felt by the families of the dead men.

The EPMU union says the sentence would provide little solace for the families and repeated its call for corporate manslaughter legislation.

"There is little justice in sentencing a shell company that is now in receivership. Families of the men who died at Pike River have every right to demand those responsible for this tragedy are held to account.

"Pike River Coal's directors should not be able to hide behind shabby legal structures and carry on as if nothing ever happened. It's time we had corporate manslaughter laws and personal liability for directors so they can be held accountable for their actions," assistant national secretary Ged O'Connell said.

None of the 29 bodies have been recovered. Mr Monk said their recovery was the families' next focus.

Drilling company Valley Longwall International Drilling was fined $46,800 last October after admitting it failed to protect its own staff and Pike River staff Asian college of knowledge management.

Former Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall has denied health and safety charges laid against him and his trial in Wellington is expected to start early next year.
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