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Hain's mine rescue funding plea after Gleision tragedy

17 October 11 19:56
Rescuers outside Gleision colliery

Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain wants better resources for mine rescue services after claiming the Swansea Valley Gleision disaster highlighted "potentially lethal" flaws.

The Neath MP claims there were disputes over bills, and some rescue costs were met by a nearby mining firm.

Four men died after the mine was flooded.

The Home Office said police forces could apply for special funding in exceptional circumstances.

David Powell, 50, Charles Breslin, 62, Philip Hill, 44, and Garry Jenkins, 39 died, and three others escaped, when the Gleision drift mine, near Pontardawe, flooded on 15 September.

A rescue operation was launched in the hope the men could be found alive.

In a report sent to Home Secretary Theresa May, Mr Hain writes: "The Gleision mine tragedy in September 2011 identified a potentially lethal flaw in the resourcing of the Mines Rescue Service and the South Wales Police Authority which the Government needs urgently to address.

"Otherwise, should there be another tragedy, both the rescue and investigation could be badly compromised: only goodwill prevented that happening at Gleision."

He added: "At a number of stages in first the rescue attempt and second the investigation, there were disputes about paying bills and the nearby Walters Mining at Aberpergwm did in fact pay a £4,500 bill for diesel fuel for generators to drive the water pumps.

"Had Walters not stepped in and volunteered to do so (without any certainty of getting their money back) the rescue attempt could have been seriously jeopardised."

Mr Hain claimed the rescuers, and later police and health and safety inspectors, "depended upon the release by other mining companies of their part-time mines rescue staff as well as other key mining personnel".

He said such companies had been described as "unsung heroes", adding: "To their credit there was never any question of the companies not co-operating.

"But they were not paid for the release of men who would otherwise have been working productively underground for companies which have to survive in a tough, competitive market place."

Mr Hain has also sent his report to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, urging him to "resource the Mines Rescue Service properly".

He added: "The principal mines inspector together with rescue and other workers performed heroically throughout the three weeks of the operation.

"But that should not detract from the very serious flaws Gleision has revealed.

"These must be urgently addressed by the government."

A Home Office spokesperson said: "Police forces can apply to the Home Office for special grant funding to help them meet significant costs incurred in exceptional circumstances.

"We have not yet received a formal request from South Wales Police. However should we receive such a request, ministers will consider it carefully."

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