Obituary: The Rev Kenneth Hayes

Share
Related Topics
Kenneth Hayes, clergyman: born Risca, Glamorganshire 1930; married (one son, and one son deceased); died Sheffield 25 December 1997.

On 21 October 1966, in the mining village of Aberfan in south Wales, a colliery waste tip slid down a mountain and engulfed the village school, killing 144 people, 116 of them children. Those who saw the deeply moving television programme on the disaster, Timewatch, which was screened in October 1996, will recall two unforgettable images of Kenneth Hayes.

One is the newsreel film of the 36-year-old minister of Zion English Baptist Church, whose own son Dyfrig was missing. He decided that his role was not to dig for bodies but to do what he could for souls. He helped methodically with the grisly task of establishing the death roll - in those first few days it was believed to be even higher than it actually was. On the Sunday after the disaster, the day after his son's body had been found, he preached in his chapel to an audience of journalists, many of them in tears throughout.

In the awful months that followed, he and his wife, Mona, kept the community afloat. They ran an appeal for toys for the surviving children of Aberfan that generated a huge and emotional response, as did the main disaster appeal. Hayes's manse became the office in which the local solicitor took the statements that would confirm the Coal Board's culpability for the disaster.

The other unforgettable image was of Hayes 30 years on, talking to the filmmakers with unnerving conviction:

The end of chapter 8 of Romans is a great summary of faith - "What can separate us from the love of God?" - it's a passage I always use when there's a personal tragedy or disaster and that's a message we always try to emphasise. "I am certain that nothing can separate us from the love of God, neither death nor life, neither angels or other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future . . ." As far as we're concerned now, we've still got two boys. We're only separated for a time. One day we're gong to meet. The parting and the loneliness and being without him is terrible, but it's not for ever.

Only such unshakeable faith can have carried him through 30 years of trauma. When he officiated at Aberfan cemetery on the anniversary of the disaster in October 1997, he did so with firm strength that belied his very frail frame.

Kenneth Hayes was born in Risca, Glamorganshire, in 1930, the son of a railwayman, and worked on the railways himself before being ordained in 1953. He ministered at various chapels on either side of the English- Welsh border before coming to the twin villages of Merthyr Vale and Aberfan in 1964.

After the disaster he became chairman of the bereaved parents' organisation. He urged the outside world to leave Aberfan to grieve for itself. He argued against prosecuting the Coal Board employees held responsible for the disaster. He led the campaign to remove the remaining tips above the village. As he wrote to Harold Wilson, then Prime Minister, in January 1968:

Every time it rains people are afraid to go to bed . . . and all of us subconsciously are awaiting the alarm to sound . . . The mental well-being of the community today, and the safety of the unborn generations, depends on the removal of tips.

But the Coal Board refused to remove its tips unless somebody else contributed to the cost. Finally, the Wilson government forced the Aberfan Disaster Fund to pay pounds l50,000 towards it - until the last minute it was demanding pounds 235,000. The present government has acknowledged that its predecessor was wrong to take the money. In July 1997 Ron Davies, the Secretary of State for Wales, paid pounds 150,000 back to the fund after years of campaigning by Hayes and others.

The negligence which killed over 100 children cost the National Coal Board almost nothing. It paid pounds 500 to the relatives of each dead child, and a total of about pounds 160,000 in compensation to Aberfan villagers. It got pounds 150,000 of that back in the coerced contribution towards removing the tips. The politicians and Coal Board management involved in Aberfan received their normal honours. How nice it would be if society remembered the Kenneth Hayeses, rather than the politicians, once in a while.

Hayes has been buried next to his son Dyfrig at Pontyberen in west Wales.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links