INQUEST: Lawyer raises ‘conflict of interest’ issue

UPDATE 12:35PM: THE Commissioner for Mines and Safety has been questioned about her role in the legal action that occurred following the mine death of underground electrician Paul McGuire.

The 34-year-old father of two died had been calibrating gas sensors when he inhaled toxic air after he was wrongly directed to a goaf in Grasstree mine on May 6, 2014.

Following an investigation the Mines Inspectorate initially charged both the mine's operator Anglo Coal and the then-site senior executive Adam Garde over Mr McGuire's death.

Anglo Coal agreed to plead guilty as long as charges against Mr Garde, who died last year in a tragic boating incident off Yeppoon, were dropped. The submission was signed off by Commissioner Kate du Preez.

One of the issues being explored in a coronial inquest, which began on Tuesday, is who should handle mine death prosecutions and in particular the discontinuation of prosecutions in fatal incidents.

Commissioner du Preez was questioned about her involvement in the prosecution as part of the probe into Mr McGuire's tragic death.

She told Mackay Coroners Court today that Mr Garde had a high chance of successfully defending any charges against him.

"Every charge has to be looked at independently according to external advice and prosecution policy," Ms du Preez said.

"Have to make every decision independently." 

Ms du Preez said she received a recommendation from external legal advice about a range of people who should have been charged.

She said she went through the process of following the prosecution policy, looked at the technical aspects and considered prosecution.

Barrister Michael de Waard, for Mr McGuire's wife Melissa McGuire, questioned Ms du Preez on whether or not she had a "conflict of interest" because she had worked for a company that was then bought out by Anglo Coal.

Ms du Preez said she did not believe it was a conflict of interest.

"If you want people with operational experience you work across… many commodities," she said. 

Coroner David O'Connell asked whether a specialist prosecutor should take over mine death incidents, but Ms du Preez said she could not comment.

TRAGEDY: Father Paul McGuire was killed in a mine gas trap in May 2014 at Grasstree mine.
TRAGEDY: Father Paul McGuire was killed in a mine gas trap in May 2014 at Grasstree mine.

EARLIER: A CORONER has questioned why easy access to a potentially lethal mine goaf was not identified as a possible safety hazard prior to the death of Paul McGuire.

The 34-year-old father of two died after inhaling irrespirable air when he opened a hatch, barred shut with a single bolt, to a goaf inside Grasstree mine on May 6, 2014.

Nearly six years later a coronial inquest heard there had been no industry standard in terms of people accessing partially sealed goafs.

No-road tape across an entry to the goaf inside Grasstree mine where electrician Paul McGuire was found dead on May 6, 2014.
No-road tape across an entry to the goaf inside Grasstree mine where electrician Paul McGuire was found dead on May 6, 2014.

Central coroner David O'Connell queried the main risk assessor on the team in charge of the sealing management plan for the goaf where Mr McGuire died about how the design addressed preventing workers from "walking through" a partially sealed hatch.

Former ventilation officer at the Anglo Coal mine Shannon Coppard gave evidence under immunity that accessing the hatch was not considered a risk by the committee overseeing the plan design.

"You didn't think it was a possible risk?" Mr O'Connell asked.


 Inquest to examine Anglo Coal electrician's death

■ Mine deaths might become 'cost of doing business'

■ Mine worker not warned of lethal goaf danger

■ Mine death sparks call for specialist prosecutor

"No, no one had ever known of it happening previously," Mr Coppard said.

Mackay Coroners Court was told Mr Coppard was fired about five months later for making an error in relation to oxygen levels on a different job.

Grasstree mine site senior executive Damien Wynn told the court there had been no industry standard that specifically addressed people accessing partially sealed goafs or warning signage in and around the dangerous areas at that time.

Mr Wynn said, however, that mines still had to work within risk management practices in accordance with legislation.

The court was told preventing inadvertent access to a goaf was raised as a critical issue following Mr McGuire's death.

Mr Wynn said a number of safety changes were adopted across all Anglo mines following Mr McGuire's death including goaf hatch redesign, preventing access and hard barriers around sealed sites.

Former relief night shift mine supervising officer at Grasstree mine, David Lowe, gave evidence that he had been a mentor-type to Mr McGuire, who was studying to become a mine deputy.

Mr Lowe described Mr McGuire as "very keen" and "very committed".

The court was told Mr Lowe did not find out about Mr McGuire's death until he arrived to start his shift hours later that day.

The inquest continues.