US & Canada

Former coal CEO sentenced to prison for US mining disaster

Don Blankenship Image copyright AP
Image caption The ex-CEO denied culpability for the miners' deaths

The former CEO of a coal company has been sentenced to a year in prison for a mine explosion that killed 29 men.

Ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was convicted of misdemeanour conspiracy to violate mine safety standards.

The 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia was the deadliest mine explosion in decades.

Mr Blankenship expressed sorrow but denied he was responsible during the sentencing hearing.

A judge also gave him the maximum fine of $250,000 (£165,000).

He called the coal miners who died "great guys, great coal miners".

"It is important to everyone that you know that I'm not guilty of a crime," he said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Twenty-nine men died in an explosion at the Big Branch mine

His lawyers had argued probation and a fine would be a more appropriate sentence.

Family members of miners killed in the accident yelled at him as he left the courthouse.

"We buried our kid because of you," said Robert Atkins, whose son died in the accident. "That's all I got is a goddamn tombstone."

Mr Blankenship was convicted of conspiracy last December, and the former superintendent of the mine was given 21 months in prison for falsifying records, disabling a methane gas monitor and tipping off workers ahead of inspections. In total, the investigation into the explosion resulted in five criminal convictions.

"This sentence is a victory for workers and workplace safety," said Acting US Attorney Carol Casto in a release. "It lets companies and their executives know that you can't take chances with the lives of coal miners and get away with it."

More on this story