Saturday , July 24 2021

Barry Soper: Re-entry Pike River is not accepted by everyone


At four to four in the afternoon eight years ago, today something happened deep in the West Coast coal mine that we had never heard of.

The explosion at the Pike River mine sent echoes throughout the world and over the next few days media from here and abroad gathered in Greymouth, leaving Coasters feeling sour.

Police district commander Garry Knowles faces a familiar tragedy that left 16 miners and 13 contractors dead. He held it together wonderfully, especially when the clown from the Australian media asked him why a state police officer was leading the operation.

Knowles refers to the reporter as "Sir" and tells him that he has responsibility for three quarters of the South Island.

Pike River Coal's boss, Peter Whittall, also became a familiar face, dealing with families of dead people – just by letting them turn to him when the sad safety record was placed under a microscope.

Whittall will face 12 charges, but was dropped after the company paid a family of nearly $ 3.5 million – which according to the Supreme Court violated the law, effectively made payments to avoid prosecution.

The union leader, whose members were killed at the mine, Andrew Little, will return there today at the memorial service, but this time as the minister responsible for re-entering the mine, which will occur early next year.

The decision to enter the mine, but not behind the rock which is part of his work, has not been welcomed by all those affected on that terrible day.

Marion Curtin, mother of 41-year-old Richard Holling who was killed, said of the decision that she could not believe in the lack of common sense and even sanity behind it. He was embarrassed by the $ 36m spent, which he said in touching interviews could spend more money on life than death.

Curtin said this was a futile exercise and he was confused by what they expected. He said it was inappropriate and disgusting that they would stir in the mine, take a bag of ash to give to the family.

This is blasphemy, he said, to disturb the graves of dead miners; they must be allowed to rest in peace.

Curtin was sure some other families felt the same way but chose not to speak.

The old mother said that she thought of Richard with love every good day for her, she said, when she didn't hear anything about Pike River.

Today will be a difficult one for him.

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