Miners fail in court action over 10 pits

MINING unions have failed in a High Court challenge to British Coal's consultation procedures related to the 10 most threatened mines.

The unions had accused British Coal of attempting to close the 10 mines 'by stealth' and of failing to consult fully on the proposed closures in accordance with a High Court ruling made in December.

The judge ruled in London yesterday that the unions were premature in bringing the action as negotiations between the two sides had not formally broken down.

British Coal welcomed the judgment and said it was clear the court application by the National Union of Mineworkers and Nacods was premature and misconceived.

A spokesman for the company said: 'We made it abundantly clear during consultative meetings with all the mining unions last week - before the legal action was initiated - that no decisions have been taken on the future of the 10 pits that were not included in the Government's coal review.'

However, a British Coal source added that the 10 collieries would not have an ongoing role, even in an enlarged market for coal. 'These collieries are loss-making in today's climate which becomes even tougher on 1 April when the average price of British Coal comes down by 20 per cent,' he said.

The company has, however, come some way to meeting miners' fears over how the future of the collieries will be assessed.

Unions had argued that J T Boyd, the American mining consultants favoured by British Coal to assess the mines, were not competent to do so. Now the company is believed to have agreed to widen the assessment, taking into account the socio-economic impact and other issues surrounding any closures.

Mark Stephens, the lawyer advising the unions, said he had not changed his view that the company was attempting to close mines by stealth and that a further court challenge could be made.

'This clearly telegraphs to us that British Coal is still trying to delay and obfuscate and to close these mines,' Mr Stephens said.