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Down the mines at 15, hands useless at 51

RAYMOND CHAPMAN can barely hold steady his cup of tea. A miner for 37 years, he spent 30 of them chipping away at the coalface of Barnborough main pit.

"It was a hard life. I was expected to fill 20 tons of coal in four hours using a pick and shovel," he said. "Sometimes you'd be up to your knees in water. It was a seven-and-a-quarter-hour shift and I had to walk the three miles to and from work."

By his own admission Mr Chapman is bitter with British Coal and feels he deserves any compensation he can get. His solicitor is currently "doing the paperwork" and he hopes to get several thousand pounds in compensation. "Who knows what I will do with it," he laughed.

Mr Chapman, from Rotherham, was 15 when he started working down the mine, following in the footsteps of his father. For the first few months he worked hauling the coal but then he was moved on to the coalface.

In 1982 his hands started to show the effects of Vibration White Finger. A few years later - hugely disappointed and angry - he was forced to retire on the grounds of ill health.

"I gave the mine the best years of my life," said Mr Chapman, who has four grandchildren. "I think I deserve the compensation. I should have been told what was happening. I am not the only person in this situation - there are a lot of us who have put in for this.

"There was obviously a lot more money around when you were working, a lot more money coming in than when you're not."

Mr Chapman, whose son is an electrician at the same mine, said he can now barely use his hands.

"They're not good for much. I can't do much with them," he said. "I can't do much gardening because I can't hold things and I can't pull the weeds up and stuff.

"I have also got arthritis in my knees from all the water and damp. It was hard work all right."

Andrew Buncombe