Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Judge orders mining disaster payout

Flames burn from a ventilation shaft above the Pike River mine after a methane blast which killed 29 people in 2010 (AP)
Flames burn from a ventilation shaft above the Pike River mine after a methane blast which killed 29 people in 2010 (AP)

A bankrupt New Zealand coal company has been ordered to pay compensation to the families of 29 miners, including two Britons, killed in a 2010 methane explosion - though they may receive just a fraction of the payout.

A judge ruled that the miners' families and two survivors of the explosion should get 110,000 New Zealand dollars (£56,517) individually, an amount in doubt because Pike River Coal went into bankruptcy soon after the explosion.

The company was convicted in April of nine health and safety violations. A government investigation found it had ignored 21 warnings that methane gas had accumulated to explosive levels in the South Island mine.

Two Scots - Malcolm Campbell, 25, from St Andrews in Fife, and Pete Rodger, 40, from Perthshire - were killed in the disaster.

Judge Jane Farish slammed the company's actions in her ruling. In addition to ordering compensation, she also fined the company 760,000 New Zealand dollars (£390,484).

Government lawyers had asked for compensation of between 60,000 NZ dollars (£30,827) and 125,000 NZ dollars (£64,224) for each of the miners.

Opposition Green Party MP Kevin Hague said the government should make up any shortfall. "It is a travesty of justice that the Pike River families could end up with as little as 5,000 NZ dollars (£2,568) in compensation when they are legally entitled to much more," Mr Hague said.

Prime minister John Key's office issued a statement saying it was too early to speculate on any government payments given that some aspects of the case are still before the courts.

Former chief executive Peter Whittall faces 12 charges in a case yet to be heard.

The victims' bodies are still entombed in the Pike River mine because the methane gas build-up that caused the explosion has made a recovery operation too risky.

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