One of the big drawbacks of the Pike River Royal Commission is its inability to compel overseas residents to appear. This means that Gordon Ward, who now lives in Australia, has declined to appear before the Commission.

Ward joined the Pike River board in July 2006 and was appointed Chief Executive in January 2007. Ward played a major role in the development of Pike River and according to the company’s June 2007 prospectus “since 1998 Gordon has been responsible for all aspects of the Pike River Coal project, taking it through the early conceptual design to the current construction phase”.

Ward was the key individual as far as Pike River was concerned and he signed all of the company’s prospectuses including the signing of the April 2010 rights issue prospectus on behalf of the other six Pike River directors.

This prospectus had the following statement; “Underground mining involves inherent risks relating to seam gas, potential for spontaneous combustion, risk of roof collapse, windblast, fire, ventilation, different geology and different levels of subsidence at the surface and different levels of underground water than predicted. These risks occur, to varying extents, in all underground mines and are controlled by a mixture of comprehensive management plans, mine design and mining techniques”.

On 10 September 2010 Pike Rive announced that Ward would leave Pike River with effect from 1 October 2010. The press release said that “Mr Ward has led Pike River from its initial conceptual design 14 years ago through development to its second coal export shipment in September 2010, and the imminent start-up of the hydromining operations”.

Ward also resigned from the board on 1 October, Peter Whittall started as chief executive on 2 October and the mine disaster occurred on 19 November.

How can a the Pike River Royal Commission be fully effective if the person who had overall responsibility for the mine plan, mine design and mining techniques refuses to give evidence?

Brian Gaynor