A Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Pike River mine disaster in New Zealand which killed 29 men - including 25-year-old Malcolm Campbell from St Andrews - has heard claims that the tragedy had its origins in the abolition of the dedicated mine inspectorate almost 20 years ago.
Giving evidence at the hearing, Robin Hughes, a former chief inspector of coal mines, said that in his view the changing of the inspectorate from a proactive to reactive system in the country was like having an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.
Mr Hughes said the government of the day ignored strong objections from inspectors to the ending of the mines inspectorate and the transfer of all inspectors to the Department of Labour and alleged that the proactive inspections of mines were discouraged.
In other evidence, coal geologist, Dr Jane Newman said that the Pike River Coal company had not done enough bore hole testing to accurately define the complex geology of the mine.
Dr Newman told the inquiry it was difficult to convey her concerns about the geology of the mine because the company seemed too busy and preoccupied and felt it did not have a sufficient understanding of the mine’s complex geological structure.
She also told the hearing it was hypothetical, but possible, that trapped gas could be released because the structure was not properly understood and thought some of the people carrying out geological analysis for the company were from overseas and did not understand the particular geological issues of the West Coast.
Dr Newman said it was difficult for Pike’s geology staff to get the attention of management, and day-to-day problems of the company caused a busy, preoccupied feeling in the organisation.
She told commissioners that her husband Nigel, also a geologist, often worked for Pike River, but last year she had asked him not to go there for a job. She said her concerns were not specific, but she was not happy with him being in the mine.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Campbell’s parents, father Malcolm senior and mother, Jane, have spoken to the Citizen of their anguish as details of the lack of safety at the mine emerge during the inquiry.
Mrs Campbell said: ”We think it will get harder and harder to hear what is being said as the inquest goes on. We are certainly not looking forward to the months ahead and hearing things which are very painful.
“It is a bit concerning now when the talk is about the safety of the mine. You hope to go to your workplace and be safe.”
The minds of Mr and Mrs Campbell are also centred on the ongoing effort to recover the bodies of the men who lost their lives, which is now under way. However, it could take up to two years to be completed and there are even worries that none of the remains will be brought out of the mine which was destroyed in a series of explosions last November.
Friends and family have joined with Mr and Mrs Campbell in a fund raising campaign to help aid the recovery mission.
Mrs Campbell said,”We are still trying to focus on the recovery and fund raising. All the families need closure, it just seems never ending. We just want our boy home.”
Malcolm Campbell was one of two Scots killed in the explosions at Greymouth, the other being Pete Rodger from Perth.
The fund raising initiative has received a boost thanks to the efforts of hair stylist Alex Thaddeus and four of her colleagues at her salon in Pitscottie,
They offered haircuts and nail treatments with a donation in lieu of payment going towards the fund. There was also a barbecue and prize draw which raised around £1500, said Alex.