English dismisses claims Pike River footage was withheld

"The idea this was a secret video is simply wrong – the Crown and the commission were fully involved," Mr English says. 

Prime Minister Bill English has come out swinging against claims the government withheld footage of an unmanned robot investigating Pike River Mine in 2011.

Last night, Newshub aired some of the footage showing the robot inside the mine with workers making repairs also appearing to be inside the mine.

The video appeared to show the robot with either smoke or steam being emitted from it.

The prime minister says it was incorrectly suggested that the footage showed that it was safe to re-entire the mine.

“It was suggested the footage showed that the mine was safe to enter, that workers had been well down the drift and this countered the expert view that manned entry is unsafe.”

He also took issue with claims the government had withheld the footage from the Pike River families and the royal commission investigating the incident.

He says the footage was made available for the families to view in July of 2011 in Christchurch and Greymouth ahead of it being turned over to the royal commission.

“Police have confirmed the Pike families were invited to a briefing and shown exerts of the estimated 20-30 hours of footage from the robot.”

Mr English says that roughly 30 family members and supporters were at each meeting.

“The story also implied the two workers were deep inside the mine in a methane-rich environment and the smoking or steaming robot countered expert assertions that the mine is unsafe to enter.”

Mr English, however, says the men seen in the video working on the robot were only in a container which had been installed at the entry of the mine and was “no deeper than two metres into the mine.”

He says the video does not change the assessment that the mine is not safe for re-entry.

“The idea this was a secret video is simply wrong – the Crown and the commission were fully involved.

“The royal commission of inquiry had every opportunity to use the video in any way it wished and the families had legal representation present in that inquiry all the way through.”

He says if they couldn’t see it themselves, their legal representative had the opportunity to ask for it and to see it and use excerpts from it.

“It’s possible though that, given the description of what the video is, any number of people didn’t regard it as determining anything in particular.”

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