Welsh mine deaths: family tributes and safety calls

Tributes have been paid by the families of the four men who were killed in the Swansea Valley mining tragedy.

The bodies of Charles Breslin, Phillip Hill, Garry Jenkins and David Powell were recovered from Gleision colliery on Friday after it became flooded.

Relatives thanked rescuers and the community for their support as an appeal fund reached more than £55,000.

Meanwhile, mining experts have urged the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to review safety procedures.

The families added their own tributes on Monday to those left by the community to the four men who died.

Charles Breslin, 62, a miner for most of his life, was called popular and sociable, a "hard working family man and a good father", who had recently celebrated 40 years of marriage.

The family of Phillip Hill, 44, said they had "endured much tragedy" with the loss of his mother and a son in the last 10 months.

They paid tribute to the rescue teams "who worked tirelessly to bring our Phillip home safely but sadly in vain".

Garry Jenkins, 39, a keen motocross racier, was called special in every way, "always happy, hard working and never without a smile on his face".

"Proud collier" Dai Powell, 50, was "our life and soul, he brought joy and fun to everyone he met".

Three miners had managed to escape as flood water engulfed the mine's shaft when a retaining wall holding back a body of water underground failed.

The HSE said it was too early to identify the cause of the flooding as its investigation at the colliery near Pontardawe continued.

Inquests into the deaths are not expected to be opened until the end of this week or early next week.

Reducing risks

But Dr Eric Wade, of the Open University, said the water may have built up in an older abandoned mine nearby, and called on such workings to be drained before new shafts were opened.

"Perhaps you can't remove the danger entirely but you can try to ensure you minimise the risk," he told BBC Wales' Week In Week Out programme.

"If you're going to work in these areas before you start your mine up you should attempt to dewater some of the old workings and this would give you another margin of safety."

Image caption Rescuers' "hearts sunk" when they heard the news the miners had died

Peter Hain, the local MP for Neath, said an appeal fund for the families of the dead miners had reached more than £55,000 by Monday lunchtime as a stream of people visited his constituency office in the town to make donations.

He welcomed a decision by the UK Government to boost the appeal fund by a further 25%, equivalent to the Gift Aid tax rebate that would have been applicable if the fund had been launched as an official charity.

Making the announcement, Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan said: "No one could fail to have been touched by this tragedy and the response to this appeal is heartfelt.

Community support

"Since the terrible events of last week people have donated generously to the appeal fund and I hope they will continue to do so."

Ms Gillan and Mr Hain have both been named as patrons of the fund, along with the Prince of Wales, First Minister Carwyn Jones, the Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan, Welsh Rugby Union chairman David Pickering, and other public figures in the locality.

Meanwhile the rescue team and emergency services involved in the incident have been reflecting on the tragedy.

Chris Margetts, of Mid and West Wales Fire Service, said rescuers felt "sorry that we just couldn't bring them home".

Mark Tibbott, from the Mines Rescue Service, said: "All along in my eyes, it was always a search and rescue operation and we kept driving ourselves forward.

"But then after 36 hours on site all my energy suddenly sunk..."

  • A Week In Week Out special on the tragedy was shown on BBC One Wales at 20:30 BST on Monday 19 September.