Gleision Colliery manager who escaped disaster arrested

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The manager of a coal mine in Wales where four men drowned last month has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.

The pit manager, Malcolm Fyfield, escaped after the catastrophic flood at the Gleision Colliery near Swansea in September. Yesterday, he was arrested in the area by officers investigating the accident, Wales's worst mining disaster in three decades.

Garry Jenkins, 39, Philip Hill, 44, David Powell, 50, and Charles Breslin, 62, were all found dead after a fruitless 30-hour rescue mission. There were seven people underground when the accident happened. Two were able to escape the mine immediately.

Mr Fyfield, 55, who is being held at Port Talbot police station under suspicion of gross negligence manslaughter, made his way through 800ft of mine shafts and slurry and was found collapsed outside the pit. He was taken to the Morriston Hospital in Swansea, where he has been for the past month.

His arrest was made on the basis of evidence gathered by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Crown Prosecution Service, which are working with South Wales Police to investigate the circumstances surrounding last month's accident.

The investigation will examine whether the miners were working in a licensed section of the Gleision site and whether they were a safe distance from underground water sources. The flooding is understood to have begun after a dynamite explosion. The safest minimum distance for using dynamite near underground water is 37 metres.

"We will do everything possible to fully understand how these four men lost their lives," Detective Chief Inspector Dorian Lloyd, the senior investigating officer in the case, said. "We continue to work closely with the bereaved families throughout this process and I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the communities affected by this incident for their continued support and patience."

The victims' families and community leaders were informed of the arrest. Wayne Thomas, who is the National Union of Mineworkers South Wales general secretary and was a friend of the deceased miners, said Mr Fyfield was an experienced miner but had only been working at Gleision for "three or four months".

He added: "We need to know the history of what happened and we need to know the actions of each individual on the day."

Peter Hain, the shadow Welsh Secretary and MP for Neath, said: "The families are still clearly traumatised by the loss of loved ones. They want to know why and how it happened. The decision to launch a prosecution is part of discovering an answer for them."

Mr Hain said that he was "surprised" at how close the miners had been working to an underground water source. He said earlier this week that the rescue operation raised serious questions about the resources available for emergency responses to mining accidents. Nearby mines had to pay for the rescue equipment themselves – one mine paid £70,000 and has not been compensated. There is no central fund from which money for mine rescues can be drawn.

A spokesman for the HSE said: "It would not be appropriate to discuss any details of the investigation."