Pit Closures: Pit village celebrates with laughter and confusion: Miners at Markham Main who took redundancy are now wondering what to do. Jonathan Foster reports

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The Independent Online
JUDGES Against Pit Closures. It still seemed an implausible lapel sticker in Armthorpe yesterday, but Dale Roberts marched into the pit yard confident of the might of English law behind him to demand his job back.

He had been called out of Markham Main colliery, Doncaster, less than 24 hours after its immediate closure was announced on 13 October.

'Management were adamant the pit was shutting the next week. We were misled. They told us in the canteen that if we went straight away, we would be made compulsorily redundant,' Mr Roberts said. 'We didn't realise until too late that it wasn't compulsory. I've always believed what they were doing was illegal, and I've always believed the way they have been running the pit was wrong. You were working under constant threat of dismissal.' Before Mr Justice Glidewell had finished his judgment, Mr Roberts, 25, had completed a two-page letter to his pit manager. It politely points out that a miner given three minutes 'counselling' about his future, plus pounds 2,500 severance pay, should be reinstated at a colliery with compelling geological reasons to stay open.

All but about 100 of the 700 miners have left, including four officials of the National Union of Mineworkers. The NUM was to have been evicted from its office this week; it is likely to be repossessed amid many snooks cocked toward the manager's office.

Underground, the men say one face has deteriorated. Another has been sealed, with valuable coal-cutting machinery lost. 'The manager will be wishing they'd sealed him off too,' a group of men emerging from the showers said.

Chortling could be heard around the pit yard, from inside the canteen, and out in the frozen, foggy car park.

The portable offices where Christine, Jeremy, Andrew and Mike advertise their informal careers advice were empty, although most of Armthorpe was as confused by the judicial ruling as it was elated.

Miners who have received redundancy payments wondered what to do. The first cheques arrived on Friday, and the first legends about premature expenditure were circulating. A straw poll revealed three cars, one villa on the Algarve and two holidays.

Carl Leighton, a faceworker with more than 20 years' service, called at his bank about the time the judge was pulling on his wig. More than pounds 20,000 had been paid in. 'I made a nice little withdrawal to get some Christmas presents and went home to find out that this judge has said the pit closures were illegal.

'It's unbelievable, but I wonder how we go on now. Are they going to ask for the money back? Are they going to ask for the men to go back? The decision is right, British Coal have broken the law in every way, but I personally had had enough, and I wanted out.'

Mr Leighton will be out on the town tomorrow. The pit closes for the Christmas and new year holiday and a fair proportion of the workforce, already planning a valedictory celebration, will be raising glasses to the judiciary.

'But are they going to fine the Coal Board and the Government?' Charlie Lindley said. 'They were quick enough to fine the NUM when they supposedly broke the law during the strike. The Government's assets should be sequestrated.' Mr Lindley was waiting for a trim at Hair Flair. The atmosphere in the little unisex hair salon was seasonably thick with perming fluid. Margaret Finch's curlers and blow wave nozzles will be working flat out. 'I think people have been spending just the same. The pit closing would have hit next year when they'd have spent all their money.'

Other traders agreed that the closure had not begun to affect the village's economy. 'But morale has been affected - there's been a lack of hope,' the Rev John Barnes, Rector of Armthorpe, said. 'We're carol singing outside Presto tonight. The carols should be sung a bit more gustily.'

Armthorpe miners, accustomed to episcopal purple at their demonstrations, can now look forward to marching behind the banners of the High Court judiciary.