British Coal 'to blame for deaths'

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

BRITISH COAL is to blame for the Bilsthorpe pit tragedy in which three men died, Arthur Scargill, the miners' leader, told a public investigation into the disaster yesterday.

Mr Scargill was backed by John McPhail, a former safety engineer, who told the hearing that the men who died were 'murdered by the gross inefficiency of both the Mines Inspectorate and British Coal'.

Mr Scargill and Mr McPhail blamed roof-support bolts for the tunnel collapse, which happened half a mile below the surface at the Bilsthorpe pit in Nottinghamshire in August last year.

An investigation has already decided that the collapse was largely caused by a movement of strata high above the underground roadway prompted by a shifting of waste materials and fallen rocks in nearby abandoned workings.

Health and Safety Executive investigators said roof-bolting was not to blame.

But Mr Scargill told the hearing, at Nottingham University, that he forecast 10 years ago that a tragedy was waiting to happen.

'The use of roof bolts would almost inevitably lead to an accident like the one at Bilsthorpe,' he said.

'They were like a giant Rawlplug with a dinner plate at the bottom. There was nothing to hold the roof up.

'Both British Coal and the inspectorate are responsible for this disaster - British Coal because they agreed to the use of roof bolts, and the inspectorate because they gave permission for them to be used.

'Steel-arched girders should have been installed. If these had been accepted these three men would have been alive today.'

The public inquiry is being headed by Professor Sir Bernard Crossland, of Queen's University, Belfast, who was appointed by the Health and Safety Commission to carry out an independent public investigation after the commission held its own inquiry.

The hearing continues.