Heseltine may face pounds 100m bill over pits

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The Independent Online
MINERS' leaders yesterday threatened legal action against Michael Heseltine to make him personally liable for more than pounds 100m of taxpayers' money paid to redundant pitmen.

Lawyers have advised Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers, that Mr Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, could be made to reimburse the Exchequer out of his own pocket because his decision to close 10 collieries was declared unlawful by the High Court.

Mr Scargill has been advised that Mr Heseltine could be in the same position as councillors or company directors who incur personal liabilities for unlawful acts.

In a letter to Mr Heseltine, the NUM leader also emphasises the importance of restarting production at the 10 pits and declares the union's opposition to the appointment of J Boyd, a US consultant, as an independent scrutineer of the viability of what are the most vulnerable mines.

The High Court suggested that Boyd might be appointed to provide an independent element in the examination of the pits. Mr Scargill, however, contends that the High Court judgment means that the 10 mines should join 21 other collieries in a more wide-ranging review. The letter to Mr Heseltine calls for assurances that money already paid to pitmen in the 10 collieries should not be reclaimed by the Government. Another letter asks the Prime Minister to meet the NUM executive and implies John Major should dismiss Mr Heseltine for his 'unlawful, invalid and irrational' decision.

Mr Scargill's announcement came on the day leaders of coal and rail unions decided to consider calls for a national 'stay-at-home' day of action in protest at the pit closures and other job losses, even though the idea has been rejected by the TUC as potentially unlawful. No firm date has been set for any action.

A series of meetings at the TUC also attempted to draw up a strategy to link protests against the pit closures with a campaign against job losses and a 1.5 per cent upper limit on pay in the public sector. A day of protest against government policies is planned for February.

Meanwhile, campaigners will attempt to postpone a public inquiry into plans to expand foreign coal imports into Bristol docks, which they claim threaten at least seven pits in the Midlands and South Wales. Up to 14 million tonnes of coal could be imported through Bristol to supply power stations at Didcot, Oxfordshire, and Aberthaw, South Glamorgan, according to the Coalfield Communities Campaign.

The inquiry was due to open at Bristol, but campaign leaders said they would press the planning inspector to adjourn it until the government review of energy policy was complete.

(Photograph omitted)