Pike River Mine: Families 'stoked' as dropping of charges over disaster ruled 'unlawful'

Pike River Mine: Families 'stoked' as dropping of charges over disaster ruled 'unlawful'

Pike River Mine: Families 'stoked' as dropping of charges over disaster ruled 'unlawful'

Updated 23 November 2017, 19:20 AEDT

Seven years after 29 men were killed in the Pike River mining disaster, New Zealand's Supreme Court rules a deal which saw charges against the mine's former CEO dropped was unlawful.

The families of the men who died in New Zealand's Pike River Mine disaster seven years ago say they are "stoked" by a Supreme Court ruling that the dropping of charges over the tragedy was unlawful.

Twenty-nine men — including two Australians — died when the mine on New Zealand's west coast exploded on November 19, 2010.

The mine's former CEO, Australian Peter Whittall, was charged under the Health and Safety Act, but those charges were dropped in return for an insurance payout to victims' families.

The families have long argued the payout amounted to blood money.

Today they saw themselves vindicated after New Zealand's Supreme Court found the deal not to bring any evidence against Mr Whittall was an "unlawful agreement to stifle prosecution".

No further charges will be laid because of the passage of time, but Anna Osborne, whose husband died in the mining disaster, said she was "stoked".

Mrs Osborne said the ruling proved that "justice cannot be bought".

"I feel fantastic," she said.

"This has been a huge victory for not only the Pike River families but New Zealand as a whole."

A royal commission found in 2012 that in the weeks leading up to the disaster, dozens of warnings of potentially dangerously high methane levels in the mine were "not heeded".

The inquiry concluded: "At the executive manager level there was a culture of production before safety at Pike River and as a result signs of the risk of an explosion were either not noticed or not responded to."

Mr Whittall, who is now living and working in Australia, has been contacted for comment.

In a separate battle over the years that have followed the explosion, Mrs Osborne, alongside Sonya Rockhouse, whose 21-year-old son Ben died in the disaster, has fought to retrieve their family's remains.

Under the centre-right National Party, the government refused to attempt a manned re-entry because its analysis said it would be too dangerous. That was disputed by the mourning families who obtained their own expert advice.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has recently renewed abandoned efforts to recover the bodies.

She has appointed a minister charged with re-entering the mine and plans are being drawn up to carry out the work as early as next year.