29 Jan 2012

Ex-Pike River boss's firm not in business says lawyer

4:48 pm on 29 January 2012

A lawyer for the former chief executive of Pike River Coal, who has started a new company, insists the company is not in business yet and won't be for some time.

The comments follow criticism of Peter Whittall for starting a new consultancy firm when his role in the 2010 disaster which claimed 29 lives is still being investigated.

Peter Whittall is fighting 12 charges arising from a Department of Labour investigation, which alleges he failed to take all steps to ensure the health and safety of his miners prior to the 2010 explosions at Pike River Mine.

Peter Whittall was chief executive of the Pike River mine at the time.

He left the company in late November and registered his new firm Peter Whittall and Associates, a few weeks later.

Its page on the business networking website Linked In, says it aims to consult on technical, management, commercial and safety issues in the minerals industry.

But Mr Whittall's lawyer Stacey Shortall says it is not currently in business and is aimed to provide work opportunities at some point in the future.

She says he is not providing consulting services now and is focussing on completing the Royal Commission and vigourously defending the Department of Labour charges.

The Department of Labour says there is nothing in health and safety laws to stop Mr Whittall setting himself up as a mining consultant, specialising on safety, though Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn calls it inappropriate.

Evidence given at the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the disaster alleges a number of unsafe practises in the mine.

The former safety manager for the mine, Neville Rockhouse, told the inquiry safety problems at Pike River went for months without being fixed and he claimed to have been intimidated by Mr Whittall.

Meanwhile, the police say they will finalise recommendations on whether they will also file criminal charges over the disaster by the end of this month.