Judge to rule over mine shutdowns

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The Independent Online
The High Court will rule today whether mining unions can be granted a temporary injunction preventing British Coal from beginning its swingeing and sudden programme of pit closures.

Mr Justice Vinelott, adjourning the hearing until today, warned British Coal - 'a very sensible body' - not to proceed with any closures until his judgment at 2pm.

Six mines are threatened with closure today, the first of 31 such moves that will shut down 40 per cent of Britain's mining industry by Christmas. Demonstrations are being planned outside the six - Markham Main, Silverhill, Trentham, Taff Merthyr, Cotgrave and Vane Tempest - although it is not clear how many will shut today.

In Sheffield a National Union of Mineworkers delegate conference authorised a national strike ballot, but held back from setting a date to allow political pressure to mount on the Government. One protest was under way yesterday; at Silverhill Roy Lynk, Union of Democratic Mineworkers' president, was sitting in underground.

John Hendy QC, for the unions, claimed in the High Court that British Coal was in breach of colliery review procedures, the 1975 Employment Protection Act, which provided for a 90-day notice of redundancies, and European law directives requiring consultation with employees and their trade union representatives.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Edwards, the former British Coal commercial director, revealed he was heading a consortium to manage four South Yorkshire collieries. Mr Edwards said many mines earmarked for closure or mothballing are profitable and should be leased to private companies. Mr Edwards, who left British Coal after disagreements with Neil Clarke, the company's chairman, said: 'It is absolutely iniquitous to close mines in South Yorkshire such as Markham Main, Rossington, Hatfield and Bentley. These are first class mines.'

He cited Frickly and Maltby in Yorkshire, Clipstone near Mansfield, Silverdale near Newcastle under Lyme, and Point of Ayr near Prestatyn as mines which should be offered immediately for others to run.

British Coal said it was willing to consider proposals for licensing and leasing mines, but a spokesman added: 'That would be on the understanding that the bidding organisation pays for care and maintenance while the negotiations take place.' That bill is more than pounds 20,000 a week.

Mr Edwards revealed his plans on BBC North. He would chair the consortium and has had talks with Brian Nicholls, of New South Wales, Australia, which would operate the mines. The consortium is seeking two leading financial backers. It also wants the goodwill of the miners and some financial commitment, in return for 30 per cent of the profits.

The former coal boss's attack on what he regards as unwarranted closures coincided with a row over Betws drift mine near Ammanford, Dyfed. The local Labour MP, Denzil Davies, attacked British Coal for refusing to allow a potential buyer to look around the pit, where 113 jobs will go.