Miners: Justice achieved against huge odds

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The Independent Online
Emotion was never far away at Merthyr Tydfil yesterday. Flanked by lawyers and officials of the National Association of Colliery Overseers, Deputies and Shot-Firers, two of the successful claimants, Glyn Jones and Connie Wells, acted with great dignity.

Mrs Wells's husband, Sam, died on 10 August 1994 - his 71st birthday. She replaced him in the legal action begun five years earlier.

"Sam would have been proud to have been here today. I was very glad to take over and I'm happy at the outcome. It means a lot for the thousands of miners who suffered from dust diseases."

Mr Wells had worked at collieries near his Maesteg home from 1938 to 1979, when emphysema and pneumoconiosis forced him to retire.

Shortly before his death he bought a new car which Mrs Wells decorated with ribbons and put in the garage; Mr Wells never saw, it because he was too ill to walk the few yards to the garage.

Handicapped by long exposure to colliery dust, Mr Jones, 77, and smartly dressed in a grey suit, spoke slowly: "No amount of money will give someone back their health. But this judgment in London will assist sufferers and widows.

"All heavy industry has gone but behind the new face in the Valleys there's immense suffering," he said.

An oxygen bottle is always carried in Mr Jones's car and one is always on hand at his house in Clive Terrace, Ynysybwl, where he lives with his wife of 49 years, Kitty.

He said: "Life with these conditions can be frightening. I could be using my nebuliser upstairs at 11 at night.

"But things might be so bad that I would have to be taken by ambulance to the East Glamorgan hospital a few miles away."

Peter Evans, a solicitor and partner in Hugh James, the firm handling some of the compensation cases, described the judge's ruling as "a damning indictment of British Coal at all levels and throughout its entire history."

He said British Coal was the largest employer in Western Europe immediately after the end of the Second World War.

"There will be thousands of similar claims, with a bill for compensation of around pounds 1bn."

As Mrs Wells and Mr Jones walked slowly to cars waiting to drive them home, pride rather than pounds was on show.

Justice, they said, was at last being achieved against the most formidable odds.

- Tony Heath