No manslaughter charges over New Zealand mine disaster

This aerial photo shows flames coming out of a ventilation shaft at the Pike River Coal mine near Greymouth on New Zealand's West Coast.

WELLINGTON - The families of 29 miners killed in a New Zealand pit explosion said Thursday they were "gutted" by a police decision not to lay manslaughter charges over the 2010 disaster.

Police informed the families on Wednesday night that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with the charges against the managers of the Pike River colliery.

"I'm pretty gutted with the decision," said Neville Rockhouse, whose son Ben died in the November 2010 blast at the South Island mine.

"At the end of the day, this disaster will be remembered as a systemic failure and it's not," he told Radio New Zealand.

"It's all about a few people and the corporate greed that they had... as a consequence I've lost my son."

The explosion, caused when a build-up of methane ignited, was New Zealand's worst mining disaster in almost a century and subsequent government reports outlined serious safety breaches at the pit.

But police said they lacked the direct evidence needed to prove any of the mine's managers were guilty of manslaughter, despite an investigation that lasted more than two-and-a-half years.

"The lack of any causative link to the specific events which led to the explosion means a manslaughter prosecution of any individual does not meet the standard of evidential sufficiency," they said in a statement.

Another spokesman for the bereaved families, Bernie Monk, said they would consider a private prosecution following the "bitterly disappointing" police decision.

"There are people we can prosecute and departments we can prosecute," he told TVNZ.

"There's no accountability here. We want accountability and I think the country should have accountability."

The company that owned the mine, Pike River Coal, was found guilty of multiple safety breaches earlier this year and ordered to pay NZ$3.4 million (S$3.38 million) compensation to the families.

However, it went into receivership shortly after the disaster and does not have the assets to meet the order.

Pike River's former chief executive Peter Whittall has pleaded not guilty to 12 workplace safety charges, each carrying a maximum penalty of a NZ$250,000, and is expected to go on trial early next year.

The disaster claimed the lives of 24 New Zealanders, two Australians, two Britons and a South African.

Their remains are still entombed about 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles) into the mine shaft, with recovery teams unable to reach them because of fears that volatile gases remain in the pit.