Families and survivors still seek answers to Gleision mine disaster

By Steven Morris

Bereaved families and survivors of a south Wales mining tragedy in which four men died exactly 10 years ago are calling for further investigations into the disaster.

Relatives say they still do not have the answers to why their loved ones were killed at Gleision colliery on 15 September 2011, one of the UK’s worst mining disasters in recent years.

Miners Philip Hill, 44, Charles Breslin, 62, David Powell, 50, and Garry Jenkins, 49, died when 3,000 cubic metres of water – enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool – poured into the area of the Swansea valley where they were working.

The colliery manager and the company that owned Gleision were cleared of offences after a trial in 2014 and no full inquest has been held.

Peter Hain, the former Welsh secretary and the MP for Neath at the time, said on Wednesday: “There are still plenty of unanswered, unexplained questions about this tragedy. I pressed hard for an inquest or inquiry at the time to establish the cause.

“Why were the men driving straight toward a massive pool of old mine water, when the pool was clearly shown on the underground map they were working from? The families are haunted by questions and deserve proper answers.”

A memorial is being unveiled in a park close to the community centre where the families gathered a decade ago to hear the news.

On the day of the tragedy, explosives were detonated to bring down a coal face 275 metres from the entrance to break through into old workings, improving ventilation and prolonging the useful life of the site, one of the last small mines in south Wales.

Three of the workers managed to scramble or crawl away. Four were caught by the torrent of dark, cold, silt-filled water and had no chance of escape.

The colliery manager, Malcolm Fyfield, who was working in the mine at the time, broke down in tears after being found not guilty of four charges of manslaughter following a three-month trial at Swansea crown court. The mine’s owner, MNS Mining, was also cleared of corporate manslaughter charges.

The trial highlighted the extraordinary conditions the men worked in, with some of the tunnels lower than a kitchen worktop, forcing them to crawl through on hands and knees.

Fyfield said he had inspected behind the coal face on three occasions, the final time just the day before and had found no substantial water there. He contended water must have migrated into the area through the porous sandstone in the few hours after his last inspection.

Jake Wyatt, a survivor who worked as a fitter in the mine, has told the BBC Wales programme Trapped Underground: The Gleision Mine Disaster he felt there were still questions to be answered. He said: “My opinion was all this was going to get swept under the carpet. Nobody wanted to know anything about it and it went from being such a high-profile case to nothing within a couple of years.”

His fellow survivor Nigel Evans added: “As it stands, now, nobody’s been blamed. Somebody must take responsibility for four bodies, four men, four lives.”

Lynette Powell, whose husband, David, celebrated his 50th birthday in the weeks before he died, said: “I haven’t got an inquest. Not only for me, for all the families.” Breslin’s widow, Mavis, said she felt “cheated of a husband and an inquest”.