'He was 62, but still strong as an ox. He always worked so hard for his family'

The victims

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The Independent Online

Above the door of Charles Breslin's sparkling whitewashed home in the village of Cwmllynfell is an embedded granite stone with "2010" carved into it. The stone is there as a testament to the hard work he put in to build a new home for himself and his wife, Mavis.

For much of the afternoon a steady stream of neighbours and well-wishers visited the family as they desperately clung on to the hope that Mr Breslin, the oldest of the miners at 62, would be pulled out alive from the Gleision Colliery. Their hopes were dashed as the news emerged yesterday evening that all four men were killed in what is now one of Britain's worst recent mining accidents. Although police and family members have yet formally to identify the bodies, those killed alongside Mr Breslin are known to be David Powell, 50, Garry Jenkins, 39, and 45-year-old Phillip Hill.

Neighbours described Mr Breslin as an immensely kind and friendly man who had worked tirelessly to build a new house where he and his wife could enjoy their imminent retirement.

"He is an absolutely lovely chap," said one neighbour.

Further south in the town of Ystalyfera where the Breslin family had lived for more than a decade, locals in the Corner Hut pub were glued to the television screens. "It's not unusual to have a man Charles's age down the mines," the landlord said. "They have the expertise. If they're fit enough to work, they work."

One family friend described how he had worked day and night to save enough money to build his new house. "Charles is as fit as an ox," the friend said. "He's always worked hard to provide for his family. They'd only just moved in to their new home. It was his pride and joy." While some family members chose to return to their homes to await the bad news, others remained in community centre in Rhos. After the news was broken that the fourth miner had been found dead, the shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain described the scene inside the centre. "The wife of a miner sitting in a hall," he said. "Just sitting there. With a tear. And thanking me as if I'd done something."

For the family of David Powell their sadness was at least tempered by the news that his 23-year-old son Andrew, who also worked at the mine, was one of the three who managed to escape. The others who made it out alive have been named as Malcolm Fifield, the 46-year-old line manager, and Mark Lloyd, 45. One of the three men, however, is in a critical condition. He is thought to have waded through slurry to escape the rising waters and then collapsed shortly after reaching the exit.