The bereaved families and survivors of a south Wales mining tragedy in which four men died exactly 10 years ago are calling for further investigations into the disaster as a memorial to the miners was unveiled during a touching ceremony.
Relatives say they still do not have the answers to why their loved ones were killed at Gleision colliery on 15 September 2011, one of the UK’s worst mining disasters in recent years.
Philip Hill, 44, Charles Breslin, 62, David Powell, 50, and Garry Jenkins, 49, died when 3,000 cubic metres of water – enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool – poured into the area of the Swansea valley where they were working.
Speaking at the ceremony outside the community hall in the village of Rhos, where the men’s families waited for news of the rescue attempt 10 years ago, Breslin’s wife, Mavis, said she felt she had been cheated of a husband and answers to why he died.
“All this time on I really don’t know what happened that day,” she said. “I don’t understand why there was all that water just behind the wall where the men were working. We really need a full inquest to get to those answers.”
The memorial is a dram – a mining truck – filled with coal that was unearthed at another mine in the area, perched on rails under a line of oak trees.
A brass band played traditional Welsh tunes as the dram was unveiled, with family members and friends of the victims watching on, alongside some of the rescuers who had tried to save the men.
The Rev Jayne Shaw, who led the ceremony, said it was a day to be proud of the men and what they stood for. She said the impact of the disaster was still felt not just by those who were close to the men but by the wider community.
Peter Hain, the former Welsh secretary and the MP for Neath at the time, said: “There has never been a proper explanation, either from the safety authorities, or from mine inspectors, or from the government. It remains a big haunting tragedy.”
On the day of the tragedy, explosives were detonated to bring down a coal face 275 metres from the entrance to break through into old workings, improving ventilation and prolonging the useful life of the site, one of the last small mines in south Wales.
Three of the workers managed to scramble or crawl away. Four were caught by the torrent of dark, cold, silt-filled water and had no chance of escape.
The colliery manager, Malcolm Fyfield, who was working in the mine at the time, broke down in tears after being found not guilty of four charges of manslaughter after a three-month trial at Swansea crown court in 2014. The mine’s owner, MNS Mining, was also cleared of corporate manslaughter charges.
Fyfield said he had inspected behind the coal face on three occasions, the final time just the day before, and had found no substantial water there. He contended water must have migrated into the area through the porous sandstone in the hours after his last inspection. There has been no full inquest.
Jake Wyatt, a survivor who worked as a fitter in the mine, told the BBC Wales programme Trapped Underground: The Gleision Mine Disaster: “My opinion was all this was going to get swept under the carpet. Nobody wanted to know anything about it and it went from being such a high-profile case to nothing within a couple of years.”
Wayne Thomas, a National Union of Mineworkers representative in south Wales and a close friend of two of the men who died, said it was pleasing to know that people were still prepared to turn out to honour the miners who lost their lives. He added that it was appropriate the memorial was next to a community centre, which would be used by all ages.
“Hopefully it will be a focal point around which people can reflect on what happened,” he said.