South West Wales

Gleision: Mine boss says colliers' memory 'most important'

Malcolm Fyfield
Malcolm Fyfield said there was only a small amount of water present the day before the incident

A mine manager cleared of manslaughter after four workers died when water flooded their pit said their memory was "the most important issue".

Malcolm Fyfield and MNS Mining Ltd were found not guilty following a trial at Swansea Crown Court.

Charles Breslin, 62, David Powell, 50, Philip Hill, 44, and Garry Jenkins, 39, died when a controlled explosion let in 650,000 gallons of water.

Their families want to know why they were working near underground water.

Mr Fyfield, 58, thanked his family and friends for their "unwavering support" since the incident in September 2011.

A statement issued on his behalf said: "Mr Fyfield recognises that the most important issue is the memory of his four colleagues who lost their lives in the tragic accident at Gleision Colliery on the 15 September 2011 and he would ask that due respect is paid to them going forward."

Mr Fyfield, who had come out of retirement to run the mine, was working underground with the men when 650,000 gallons of water burst into the pit after they blasted into old coal workings, near Pontardawe.

He had been given orders to connect two parts of the pit to improve ventilation.

Garry Jenkins, 39, Philip Hill, 44, David Powell, 50, and Charles Breslin, 62, were killed in the mine
The main entrance to the Gleision drift mine near Cilybebyll

The prosecution claimed Mr Fyfield had been warned about the existence of the underground water and the court heard maps of the mine suggested the colliers had been working near a known underground reservoir.

But Mr Fyfield said that he was satisfied there was only a small "ponding" of water in the area after inspections.

Mr Fyfield and mine owners MNS Mining denied manslaughter through gross negligence.

Key to the three-month case was whether Mr Fyfield inspected the mine as he said he did. The jury took just an hour to clear him.

Neath MP Mr Hain said he had spoken to three of the four men's families and all wanted clarity on why the men were mining in an area known to have underground water.

"I am going to be asking the Health and Safety Executive to give us a proper report on why what happened, happened," he said.

"Because there has been no explanation as to why they were mining in an area for which they were not licensed and heading towards an area where there was underground water.

"I think the families deserve answers. I will be asking for that."

Mr Hain said he was not questioning the jury's verdict and said Mr Fyfield was a victim of the tragedy as well.

Rescuers had to pump water from the mine during the search before they could access it

Councillor Rosalyn Davies, who represents the Godre'r Graig ward, said the court case had provided some closure for the families of the men who died.

"It was very important that there was a hearing so that the truth could come out... evidence was given and we have to respect the jury's decision," she said.

She also told BBC Wales she had fought plans submitted by other mining companies to mine in the area, adding: "If we haven't learnt lessons from Gleision, well when will we learn lessons?"

A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service said its decision to prosecute was taken following a thorough investigation and it hoped the court case had at least given the families, and the community, a fuller understanding of what had happened.

"Questions needed to be answered about the management of the mine and it was right to ask a jury to determine the question of guilt or innocence," the spokesman said.

"Having heard the evidence, the jury has determined that we have not proved our case beyond reasonable doubt. On that basis the jury must acquit and we respect their decision."

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