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West Coast illegal gold mining claims: Trial starts for man accused of mining about $200,000 worth of gold

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A man accused of illegally mining about $200,000 worth of gold on the West Coast says they “haven’t broken one single rule”.

Peter Hugh Morrison appeared in the Christchurch District Court today before Judge Raoul Neave on day one of his trial.

Morrison faces a charge that he allegedly mined for gold at Inangahua between April 25, 2021, and July 25, 2021, without a mining permit while holding only an exploration permit.

There’s an alternative charge that Morrison during the same time aided Humphreys Mining Limited to undertake a mining operation subject only to an exploration permit.

Morrison, who is representing himself, pleaded not guilty to both charges before the jury on Monday morning. The trial is set down for four days.

In the Crown’s opening address to the jury, the Crown prosecutor said Morrison faced two charges under the Crown Minerals Act.

Morrison had a number of companies, one of which owned a big piece of land in Inangahua.

Prior to him buying the land an exploration permit had been issued over the land by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

MBIE decides who can undertake what activities to do with gold, silver and other minerals.

“You can’t just go and start mining off your own account. You actually need a permit to do that,” the Crown said.

The Crown alleges Morrison did not have the appropriate permit for the mining activity that he engaged in on his land.

“This trial is going to be about the difference between exploration or exploring for minerals and mining which the Crown says we’ve got here with large-scale excavation work being undertaken and gold being extracted.

“Mr Morrison says he was only exploring and the permit allowed him to do what he was doing and the Crown totally disagrees with Mr Morrison.”

The Crown argued Morrison went “away beyond the bounds of exploration” and that he was mining with no permit.

The Crown says “well before” Morrison bought the land some testing was done in the 1980s which determined there were likely gold deposits in a specific area.

A woman who owned the land applied for an exploration permit which was granted. When Morrison bought the land the permit did not immediately transfer to him.

If he wanted to explore for gold on the land he needed the woman’s permission. He then entered into a contract with the woman allowing him to start exploration.

Exploration was defined as any activity undertaken for the purpose of identifying mineral deposits and evaluating the feasibility of mining those deposits.

“An exploration permit does not give you cart blanche … to roll in with a massive digger, enormous trucks and to dig up an enormous area. It only allows you to disturb the land that’s reasonably necessary to evaluate feasibility.”

The woman who owned the land previously lived nowhere near the land and did not visit to see the site. She repeatedly asked Morrison for details about what he was doing on the land as she did not want any breach of the permit she was liable for.

“She asked him repeatedly. She wanted to know what testing he was doing, what sampling, what equipment and how big his test sites were.”

Morrison however “could not, and certainly did not” provide accurate up-to-date information to the woman about his activities, the Crown said.

Morrison believed MBIE was going to issue him a mining permit and he got sick of waiting and just started mining, the Crown alleges.

“He instead brought an enormous digger, a floating gold plant and two big trucks to move all of the earth that he moved.”

Morrison allegedly dug about 10 metres deep with about 100,000 cubic metres of earth, extracting about $200,000 worth of gold.

“The Crown says what he was doing was miles away from exploration. Nothing subtle about what Mr Morrison was doing,” the Crown said.

“What he was caught doing was flat-out mining and trying to extract as much gold as he could.”

In response, Morrison told the jury he was “mortified and bewildered to be here today”.

He said he was “110 per cent” that they did the work in a “progressive way” as required under the exploration permit.

“I never thought this case would go to trial. I did not think there was a case to answer,” Morrison said.

“We haven’t broken one single rule and I’m very sorry you’re all sitting here today.”

Morrison said it had to be proven he breached the exploration permit.

“Using the guidance that’s impossible. Anything you’re allowed to do under exploration you’re allowed to do under mining, and vice versa.”

He said applying the law and guidance the court would spend the next four days in court “arguing over reasonable”.

“I think that my wife and I did this exactly, and I mean exactly in an exemplary fashion, not illegal, exemplary.”

The operation had a potential for 12 jobs, Morrison said.

“This is a significant mine, significant area,” he said. “I think all of our behaviour is 100 per cent what we’re meant to do.”

Morrison said he had no criminal history and referred to his role as chairman of Westland Milk.

“This group of people are tormenting other people on the Coast, not following [their] own guidance. This is not the way this country should be run, not the way the rules should be applied and they’re completely and utterly out of order.”

Sam Sherwood is a Christchurch-based reporter who covers crime. He is a senior journalist who joined the Herald in 2022, and has worked as a journalist for 10 years.

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