Miners find 10 pits on 'illegal' list still shut

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The Independent Online
MINING UNIONS have attacked British Coal for failing to resume production this week at the 10 pits whose closure was ruled illegal by the High Court last month.

At the same time, solicitors acting for the miners say that British Coal is in danger of being in breach of its assurances to the court if the condition of the pits is allowed to deteriorate.

Mark Stephens, of the law firm Stephens Innocent, said that British Coal appeared 'dead set' on continuing on the course adopted before the High Court ruling. 'That seems to me to be moving closer to contempt,' he said.

Peter McNestry, national secretary of Nacods, the pit deputies union, said that in spite of British Coal denials, the condition of the pits is continuing to worsen. Only one, Betws in South Wales, is still mining coal but is expected to cease production in the middle of this month. Nacods and the National Union of Mineworkers are expected to voice their concerns at a TUC meeting in London today.

Mr McNestry said that unions believed British Coal would begin production at some of the 10 mines when the Christmas break ended yesterday but miners were sent home without producing coal. British Coal said that management was still deciding whether to lodge an appeal against the High Court ruling.

At Trentham colliery, Stoke- on-Trent, more than 300 miners arrived in a snowstorm for the first shift after the Christmas and New Year holidays. Most were sent home promptly, with a few remaining for care-and-maintenance work which the unions claim is insufficient to allow the pit to resume production swiftly and economically, if the closure decision is reversed.

At a 20-minute meeting, union representatives were told the pit's regime was unchanged. 'As far as we are concerned, they are still acting illegally,' John Connon, NUM branch president, said. 'There has never been any meaningful consultation and we should be producing coal instead of paying men to stay at home. The fabric of a pit depends on production. If faces are not being moved forward, they are not being maintained, according to the promises British Coal made to the judge and Parliament.'

Three of the production faces at Trentham have encountered problems since the closure announcement. But British Coal insisted yesterday that 'no significant deterioration' had occurred. The unions claim that at least two days' work will be needed to resume production, time which could have been saved if limited coal-cutting had continued.

At Vane Tempest colliery in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, men were sent home amid claims that morale had collapsed. David Guy, president of the NUM's north- east area, said that he would urge the union to take British Coal back to court. 'I am amazed that the Tories, who claim to be the party of law and order, can continue to ignore a High Court order made two weeks ago,' he said.

'There should have been some guidance given to the men today, but I am not surprised the situation is unchanged. We have been refused data about the pit that would enable us to present a consultative case for its future. I'm convinced that under no circumstances do British Coal want Vane Tempest to remain open because they are organising the industry for their objective of organising a management buy out.'