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UK coal mine manager cleared of manslaughter

22 June 2014

A mining manager has been cleared of the manslaughter of four colleagues who died in the worst British pit disaster in recent years. Four men died in the accident at the Gleision mine near Pontardawe in south Wales when 650,000 gallons of water flooded the tunnels in September 2011.

Stock image
Stock image

Malcolm Fyfield, 58, the mine manager, was also working in the cramped and old-fashioned mine at the time, but managed to crawl free. He was accused of four charges of manslaughter. The company that owned the mine, MNS Mining, was charged with corporate manslaughter.

After a three-month trial, a jury at Swansea crown court took just two hours to find Fyfield and the company not guilty of all charges.

The prosecution claimed that when Fyfield ordered a coal face to be blasted he had not adequately checked if there was a body of water in the old mine workings behind it. But he insisted he had done safety inspections of the area, including one on the day before the tragedy.

Fyfield, a father of two from Swansea, spent a week in intensive care in hospital after the tragedy and later suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Gleision was one of the last small-scale drift mines in south Wales. Some of the tunnels were lower than a kitchen work top and the miners had to crawl on hands and knees through them.

On the day of the accident, explosives were detonated with the intention of bringing down a coalface 275 metres from the entrance to break through into old workings, improving ventilation and prolonging the useful life of the old mine.

The coalface was brought down but the blast caused 650,000 gallons of water to pour towards the miners. Three of the miners managed to scramble or crawl away but four were caught by the torrent of dark water and had no chance of escape. Postmortem examinations found their lungs and airways were blocked with water contaminated with coal and silt.

One issue raised was why the mine had not been visited for 16 months by the HSE when a check from that body should have taken place every year. Tony Forster, the mines inspector for Gleision, said it was not always possible to visit the pit regularly as its operation tended to be a stop-start affair.

Small mines such as Gleision tend to open and close as the price of coal rises and falls. If market conditions are not judged to be favourable, the pit is mothballed and the men laid off.

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