Australia: Copper mine deaths probe to resume after legal challenge, six years after trio's loss - - PressFrom - Australia
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Australia Copper mine deaths probe to resume after legal challenge, six years after trio's loss

09:40  14 october  2019
09:40  14 october  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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A family photo of Sandra and Michael Welsh. Michael was killed at the Mount Lyell mine.© ABC NEWS A family photo of Sandra and Michael Welsh. Michael was killed at the Mount Lyell mine.

Almost six years after her father died in a tragic mining accident on Tasmania's west coast, Tamika Sylvester is still waiting for answers — with the company saying while their stress due to the inquest delay was "unfortunate", it could not let a "matter go unchallenged".

Michael Welsh, 55, died during an underground mud rush at Queenstown's Mt Lyell copper mine in January 2014.

In 2018, the ABC reported evidence tendered at the inquest was that the workers on the shift before Michael Welsh's crew arrived had raised concerns about "bulging" of the mine wall, resulting in the risk rating being elevated from low to medium.

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a person in a dark room: Three miners died in a six-week period at the Mt Lyell mine, beginning in 2013. (ABC News: Henry Zwartz)© Provided by Australian Broadcasting Corporation Three miners died in a six-week period at the Mt Lyell mine, beginning in 2013. (ABC News: Henry Zwartz) The inquest was told Mr Welsh, considered an experienced bogger driver, inspected the wall with a co-worker — with both determining the medium risk rating too high based on what they saw during their own inspection.

Less than 20 minutes after the inspection, Mr Welsh was killed by a sudden inundation when the wall collapsed, 600 metres underground.

Alistair Lucas and Craig Gleeson© ABC NEWS Alistair Lucas and Craig Gleeson His death came just six weeks after two other workers, Alistair Lucas and Craig Gleeson, fell to their deaths in the same mine.

A coronial inquest into the deaths of all three men began last year, but it's been on hold for almost 18 months due to a challenge from Copper Mines Tasmania (CMT) after it argued that mining consultant John Webber lacked the independence and specialist knowledge in the areas he was giving expert opinions.

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The company challenged the inclusion of seven reports written by Mr Webber, which were thrown out during an earlier criminal trial, but the Supreme Court ruled against them.

It later challenged that ruling in the Full Court of the Supreme Court, but lost again and late last week its High Court appeal also failed.

Now the inquest is set to resume sometime next year.

But Ms Sylvester, the daughter of Michael Welsh, said her family had only found out about the latest development through social media.

"You try and get on with life the best that you can, the best way that our father would want us to and then you get on there and it's up in your news feed," she said.

"Your heart just drops, you instantly feel sick in the stomach. Everything just comes flashing back to you and … your mind is just set on one thing for the whole day."

She said the family "hasn't been told anything since we were last in court," over a year ago, but pleas for information had fallen on deaf ears.

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Ms Sylvester said her family was ready for the inquest to wrap up, but she didn't think "it's anywhere near over".

"We go back to court and we've got to relive that morning all over again," she said. "We don't try and blank it out or anything like that but we try and move forward.

"You go to court and you've got to see photos and information that we haven't been told just brought up in court."

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union's state secretary, John Short, said he was pleased the inquest was going to resume.

"In that six-week period six years ago there were three fatalities at the mine and you've got to get to the bottom of that, you can't just allow that to go unchallenged."

But he felt the whole process had been "dragged out for a long period" and that it needed to be resolved.

"I think it would give some modicum of closure to the families involved with it," he said. "I mean, it's been a terrible time for them.

"It's been an absolute tragedy for the families but also for the town and the region."

Delay 'unfortunate' but matter 'too important to go unchallenged'

In a statement, Copper Mines of Tasmania said it was "disappointed" in last week's decision by the High Court to "uphold the decision of the full court of the Supreme Court to allow a consultant's report into the death of a contractor in 2014 to be examined by the coroner".

"Any stress the delays may have caused the family of Michael Welsh, who died as a result of the mud rush, was unfortunate", CMT said, adding it was "too important a matter to let go unchallenged".

"CMT is concerned the report, which was disallowed as evidence in an earlier trial and described by the judge as 'woefully inadequate', had the potential to mislead the coroner and cause public distress," the company said.

CMT said the company would "cross examine the consultant and challenge the consultant's report 'line by line' to ensure it did not mislead the coroner".

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