Ex-miner is now one of Britain's richest men thanks to 'twin evils' of Scargill and Bin Laden

Twenty years after losing his job, military supplier joins UK's 1,000 wealthiest people. By Andrew Johnson
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The Independent Online

He is a Yorkshire miner who lost his job 20 years ago in the wave of redundancies that followed the bitter 1984 miners' strike. Now, in a remarkable reversal of fortune, Jimmy Heselden today is named one of Britain's richest men.

He is a Yorkshire miner who lost his job 20 years ago in the wave of redundancies that followed the bitter 1984 miners' strike. Now, in a remarkable reversal of fortune, Jimmy Heselden today is named one of Britain's richest men.

Mr Heselden's company, HESCO Bastion, which he founded with his redundancy pay, is thought to be worth £93m. It manufactures portable wire cages that can be filled with earth and sand and which he initially sold to water companies to shore up the sides of canals.

But the "concertainers" have also proved to be adept at stopping bullets, missiles and suicide bombers and as such have become standard military equipment for Nato as well as American and British forces.

Between 1998 and 2003 the Pentagon alone bought more than $100m (£53m) worth of the flat-packed walls, which can be found throughout Iraq protecting tanks, helicopters and soldiers, as well as in Afghanistan and the Balkans.

They have also catapulted Mr Heselden, 54, into The Sunday Times list of Britain's 1,000 richest people. A leading financial analyst who specialises in top-end incomes said: "He owes his success to his talent and the twin evils of Arthur Scargill and Osama bin Laden."

Mr Heselden lives in an exclusive area of Leeds where his firm is based. Media shy, he has never given an interview or posed for a photograph. All that is known about him is that in 1999 he flew 21 staff to Benidorm after they fulfilled an order for Kosovo.

His idea was to revive an Italian Renaissance invention. Gabions, from the old Italian gabbia, meaning cage, were wicker baskets open at both ends which could be filled with earth. Mr Heselden's idea, patented in 1989, was to make them out of galvanised steel, flat-pack them and call them bastions. They made their military debut in the 1990-91 Iraq War where they replaced sand-filled oil drums, and further proved their worth in Bosnia, when more than 38 miles of them protected UN troops. They are also used for land reclamation and to help stop coastal erosion.

But at £93m Mr Heselden will find himself quite far down the list of 1,000 names, who between them are worth £250bn. This record figure is up by £50bn from last year - a rise of 25 per cent or 15 times the rate of inflation. The list will show that there are 40 billionaires living in Britain, another record figure and an increase of 150 per cent since Labour came to power in 1997, when there were just 16.

Nine out of 10 of the names have also seen their wealth increase in the past year. "Blair is the billionaire's friend," the analyst added. "Richer Britain has never had it so good. Britain is the tax haven for billionaires. It's a very benign regime."

£14.8bn

Lakshmi Mittal, 54, steel magnate

Rank: 1st

Last year: 5th, worth£3.5bn.

Road to riches: Born in Rajasthan, India, in a village with no electricity. Came to Europe and bought run-down state steel mills in the former Soviet bloc. Takeover of US rival boosted this year's income.

£5.6bn

Duke of Westminster, 53, aristocrat

Rank: 3rd

Last year: 2nd, worth £5bn.

Road to riches: Britain's largest land-owner with 300 'golden acres' of London's Belgravia and Mayfair, 145,000 acres of Scotland, Cheshire and Lancashire. Inherited from his father in 1979.

£4.95bn

Hans Rausing, 79, industrialist

Rank: 4th

Last year: Placed third, worth £4.95bn.

Road to riches: Family fortune comes from Tetra Pak boxes. Hans sold his half of the firm to brother Gad in 1995 for £4.4bn and invested in eco-friendly packaging and ketchup. Gave £30m to charity in 2003.

£4.85bn

Philip Green, 53, retailer

Rank: 5th

Last year: 4th, worth £3.61bn.

Road to riches: Owns TopShop, Bhs and Dorothy Perkins under the Arcadia umbrella. Left school at 16. Made nearly £3m on first big deal.

£7.5bn

Roman Abramovich, 38, Russian oil magnate and owner of Chelsea FC

Rank: 2nd

Last year: 1st, worth £7.5bn.

Road to riches: One of the young oligarchs favoured by former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, he bought large chunks of Russian state industry on the cheap. Acquired his oil during the country's controversial privatisations in the 1990s.

Andrew Johnson

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