Crown Stays Charges
Against Westray Managers

Announcement delayed for "procedural" reasons

Crown Stays Charges
Against Westray Managers

Announcement Delayed Until Hours Before Major Holiday

This Canadian Press wire service item is dated
Tuesday, June 30, 1998

STELLARTON: — Relatives of the victims of the Westray disaster erupted in tears and shouts Tuesday when Nova Scotia prosecutors said they were staying charges of manslaughter and criminal negligence against two mine managers.

Pearl Bell, whose son Larry was among 26 miners who died in the 1992 explosion, said her husband recently died waiting for justice in the case.

"And you tell me that you can drop this?" she said through tears as she confronted Crown prosecutors at a news conference. "Who scared you? How can you even sleep?"

The prosecution service, which has pursued the case for five years, said there just wasn't enough evidence to convict the pair.

"Based upon the evidence available to the Crown, the prosecution service concluded that there is no reasonable chance that a conviction would result," said Marc Chisholm, head of the Westray prosecution team.

The decision means Gerald Phillips and Roger Parry will not have to face trial next year as scheduled, ending a legal saga that began in April 1993. Charges were also stayed against Curragh Inc., the now-bankrupt company that owned the Westray mine.

"I'm extremely upset over it," said Isabel Gillis, whose husband Myles died in the blast.

Another family member, Debbie Martin, whose brother-in-law was killed in the methane and coal-dust explosion, said she was shocked when Chisholm called her with the news Tuesday afternoon.

"I was just kind of stunned," she said. "I just sat there and listened to a probably very rehearsed speech that he must have been practising for awhile."

Genesta Halloran-Peters, a Westray widow, said the decision was "upsetting and very, very discouraging. In the province of Nova Scotia, we're killing 26 people — everybody, move to Nova Scotia: You're now allowed to commit murder."

Chisholm acknowledged the decision was hard on the Westray families.

"We know that our decision will come as a disappointment to many, especially the families," he said at the news conference.

"Like all Nova Scotians, we are deeply troubled by this tragedy but our professional responsibility is to base our decision on the strength of the evidence."

Martin Herschorn, interim head of Nova Scotia's prosecution service, said the four-member team made its decision on June 22 and that he agreed with the findings. He cited procedural reasons for delaying the announcement to the media and families until the eve of Canada Day.

Two reports are expected into the way the prosecution handled the Westray case over the last five years.

A Westray inquiry report into the blast at nearby Plymouth, N.S., cited a host of safety lapses at the mine.

Two provincial mine officials — Claude White and Albert McLean — were fired after the report cited failure to enforce safety laws. They joined Jack Noonan, who was fired from the Labor Department in the months immediately following the underground blast.

Another top official at the Natural Resources Department was fired earlier this year, and another was reprimanded, for failing to properly monitor the mine.

But the cases of Parry and Phillips dragged on for years through the courts. Charges were quashed at one point, then refiled, stayed, revived and a new trial ordered.

"The thing that's bothering me the most right now is that they're over at that minesite now ripping it down," said Joe MacKay, whose brother Michael is still buried in the underground mine.

"To 11 families, those big two silos standing there side by side (at the mine site) make the number 11 and there's 11 guys still down there."

Only 15 of the bodies at Westray were ever recovered.

"That's our grave-marker and now they are not even looking at putting any kind of stone or anything," MacKay said.

Ray Wagner, lawyer for some of the families, said the decision on the charges will likely increase pressure on the government to compensate the families.

"It has no real impact from a legal point of view on our civil case (for compensation), but certainly the focus of attention for the families and of course the people of Nova Scotia will be on what government will do to deal with the civil claims," Wagner said.

"Obviously there will be a huge amount of pressure to get that resolved."

Herschorn praised the "diligence and professionalism" of his staff and said he was "satisfied with the correctness of the decision."

Relatives of Westray Mine Disaster Victims Angered

VOCM Radio News
St. John's, Newfoundland
Wednesday, July 1, 1998

There was anger and frustration in Stellarton, Nova Scotia, as relatives of the 26 men killed in the Westray mine disaster confronted prosecutors. Six years after the coal mine exploded, the Crown has dropped plans to prosecute two former mine managers. Roger Parry and Gerald Phillips were charged with manslaughter and criminal negligence. The victim's relatives say the mine was not safe, and mine managers and provincial inspectors were negligent. But the Crown says there's conflicting evidence as to exactly what caused the explosion.

Go To:   Westray Scrapbook Fifty clippings about the Westray coal mine disaster
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