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Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson QUITS over miner’s destruction of Indigenous Juukan Gorge site

The chairman of mining giant Rio Tinto plans to quit, accepting personal failings relating to the widely condemned destruction of an ancient sacred Indigenous site in Western Australia‘s Pilbara region in 2020.

Briton Simon Thompson said he planned to step down from Rio’s board and not seek re-election in 2022 in a company statement because, ‘I am ultimately accountable for the failings that led to this tragic event.’

The blasting of the cave at Jukkan Gorge, as part of the expansion of the Brockman 4 iron ore mine, was understood to be legal but against the wishes of traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people.

Mr Simon Thompson, Rio Tinto chairman has announced he will step down from the company's board in 2022 following outrage over the miner's destruction of the ancient site - but he will seek re-election in 2021

Mr Simon Thompson, Rio Tinto chairman has announced he will step down from the company's board in 2022 following outrage over the miner's destruction of the ancient site - but he will seek re-election in 2021

Mr Simon Thompson, Rio Tinto chairman has announced he will step down from the company’s board in 2022 following outrage over the miner’s destruction of the ancient site – but he will seek re-election in 2021

The 46,000-year-old rock shelters (pictured) in Western Australia's Pilbara region were blasted in May 2020 to extract $188 million worth of high-grade iron ore

The 46,000-year-old rock shelters (pictured) in Western Australia's Pilbara region were blasted in May 2020 to extract $188 million worth of high-grade iron ore

The 46,000-year-old rock shelters (pictured) in Western Australia’s Pilbara region were blasted in May 2020 to extract $188 million worth of high-grade iron ore

An archaeological dig at the cave in 2014 led to the belief it was one of the only inland sites in Australian containing evidence of continuous human occupation for more than 46,000 years. 

Stone tools, an implement made from a 28,000-year-old marsupial bone and a belt made from human hair were among items found there.

Although the traditional owners tried to stop the blasting, Rio Tinto went ahead with it.

Rio published a full review of the incident and what it had learned on its website in August 2020, which controversially recommended senior executives’ bonuses be cut.

This is understood to have outraged critics of the site’s destruction and it is believed a combination of pressure from investors, Aboriginal groups and the Australian government led to Mr Thompson’s decision.

In his statement on Tuesday, Mr Thompson said while he was ‘proud of Rio Tinto’s achievements in 2020’, they were ‘overshadowed by the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters at the Brockman 4 operations in Australia’.

Mr Thompson said a lot of work was being done ‘to rebuild the trust that we have lost’ and added ‘the tragic events at Juukan Gorge are a source of personal sadness and deep regret, as well as being a clear breach of our values as a company’.

It is understood Mr Thompson, who was made chairman in March 2018, would seek to remain in his role for another year by seeking re-election at the 2021 Rio Tinto annual general meeting.  

Last June Rio issued a statement apologising: ‘We are sorry for the distress we have caused.’

Juukan Gorge in Western Australia. Explosives were detonated in a part of the Juukan Gorge, demolishing two ancient rock shelters and prompting outcry and renewed national debate on the protection of indigenous heritage sites

‘Our relationship with the PKKP matters a lot to Rio Tinto, having worked together for many years.

‘We will continue to work with the PKKP to learn from what has taken place and strengthen our partnership.

‘As a matter of urgency, we are reviewing the plans of all other sites in the Juukan Gorge area.’  

Losing the site was a ‘devastating blow’ to the traditional owners, said tribe representative John Ashburton.

‘There are less than a handful of known Aboriginal sites in Australia that are as old as this one … its importance cannot be underestimated,’ he said in a statement.

‘Our people are deeply troubled and saddened by the destruction of these rock shelters and are grieving the loss of connection to our ancestors as well as our land.’

Source: Daily Mail Australia | World News

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