Pike River Inquiry Phase 3: Whittall rejects allegations

By Rebecca Macfie In Pike River Mine Inquiry

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Update: Whittall’s lawyer Stacey Shortall told the inquiry this morning that her client was “devastated” to learn from yesterday’s hearings that White thought so poorly of him. She pointed out that in the same police interview in which White described Whittall as overbearing and dictatorial, he had said of Whittall: “To talk to the bloke one on one he was the nicest bloke to meet in the world”.

Of the message White sent to his friend in Australia describing Whittall as a “dodgy git”, Shortall said it was important to acknowledge the context, which was an extended email “banter” which White would never have imagined becoming public. Whittall “vehemently denied” the allegations of being “dodgy”, she said.

“Maybe,” replied White, “but he did lie.” He agreed with Shortall that that comment related to Whittall’s accusations about causing a share price fall. He agreed there was no suggestion Whittall was “dodgy” in relation to safety matters.

Shortall said Pike’s chairman John Dow, also her client, “flatly rejected” White’s allegation that Whittall had “done a number” on former chief executive Gordon Ward. White responded that he had found it odd that Dow had been in his office only a few days before Ward’s departure telling him “what a bad person” Ward was. There had been a great deal of speculation around the workplace, and Whittall himself had said he wasn’t sure if he would keep his job.

In response to evidence put to White earlier in the week that Pike’s fixed gas monitoring system – which should have been reporting gas levels to the surface – was largely ineffective, Shortall said there were also machine-mounted gas monitors designed to shut down equipment when gas rose above a certain threshold, and mine deputies and under-viewers checked gas using hand-held detectors.

At the close of his testimony, White was asked by commissioner David Henry about the adequacy of the mine’s information management systems. He put it to White that there was no information system that “rolled up” critical data in a way that highlighted matters of concern underground. White agreed. He had to go and obtain for himself any particular piece of information that he needed.

Evidence has been heard over the last three days of improvements to mine safety introduced by White during his ten months at Pike, including stone dusting standards (to reduce the risk of coal dust fire) and carbon monoxide monitoring. Commissioner Stewart Bell asked White whether he believed he had taken “all practicable steps” to maintain safety. White’s lawyer, John Haigh QC, advised him to exercise his right not to answer to avoid the risk of self-incrimination.

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