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Rio Tinto chairman will not seek re-election after firm destroyed ancient site

Simon Thompson will stay until the miner’s shareholder meeting next year to provide continuity.

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Several senior members of Rio Tinto have resigned following the events in Australia (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Several senior members of Rio Tinto have resigned following the events in Australia (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Several senior members of Rio Tinto have resigned following the events in Australia (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The chairman of Rio Tinto has announced that he will not seek re-election after the mining giant blew up parts of an ancient indigenous site in Australia to make way for new iron ore extraction.

However, Simon Thompson said he will continue in the role until the company’s 2022 shareholder meeting.

The firm hopes this will provide stability at the top after the outcry also forced Rio’s chief executive and other senior staff to step down.

In May, the Anglo-Australian miner, which has a market value of more than £81 billion, blew up rock shelters at Juukan Gorge which date back 46,000 years.

The historically important shelters are some of the oldest examples of human settlement in Australia.

As chairman, I am ultimately accountable for the failings that led to this tragic eventSimon Thompson, Rio Tinto

Mr Thompson said the event “overshadowed” Rio Tinto’s successes last year and “as chairman, I am ultimately accountable for the failings that led to this tragic event”.

He said the company has spoken to First Nations groups to learn lessons from its actions.

“Throughout my seven years on the Rio Tinto board, I have endeavoured to promote a progressive environmental, social and governance agenda,” Mr Thompson said.

“While I am pleased with the progress we have made in many areas, the tragic events at Juukan Gorge are a source of personal sadness and deep regret, as well as being a clear breach of our values as a company.”

Separately, Michael L’Estrange, a board member whose report into the events was heavily criticised last year, will retire at this year’s shareholder meeting as he recovers from “significant surgery”, Rio Tinto said.

Mr Thompson is the latest in a line of senior figures to depart after the miner’s actions at Juukan Gorge.

In September, chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques announced that he was leaving and the company later said he would be replaced by Jakob Stausholm.

Rio Tinto’s iron ore and corporate relations heads have also stepped aside.

Sam Laidlaw, a board member who will lead the search for Mr Thompson’s successor, said: “The board accepts Simon’s decision and is grateful that he has agreed to provide an important period of stability and support for Jakob and the new executive team ahead of the annual general meetings in 2022.

“This will allow an orderly process for the appointment of our new chair and other key board members.

“The board wishes to thank Simon for his commitment and continuing leadership during this challenging period for Rio Tinto.”

PA


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