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Friday, January 23, 1998 Published at 05:27 GMT


Miners in historic compensation battle
image: [ Pits may have closed, but coal communities never forget. ]
Pits may have closed, but coal communities never forget.

A High Court ruling could herald the biggest compensation payout made in Britain.

Eight retired miners hear on Friday whether they have won claims for personal injury against their former employer, British Coal.

If they win, it could lead to a floodtide of compensation claims from other miners and their families which could ultimately cost the Government £2bn.

[ image: Miners spent hours underground...]
Miners spent hours underground...
The retired miners have been trying since 1991 to prove that coal dust in the air they breathed while working underground has destroyed their health. The men say they contracted a range of serious chest diseases.

They allege that British Coal knew about the risks but failed to protect its workers.

If the High Court does rule in the miners' favour, legal experts believe it could open the way for up to another 200,000 compensation claims.

At least another 162 cases are being held back subject to the High Court ruling.

[ image: often doing backbreaking work...]
often doing backbreaking work...
British Coal, a former nationalised industry, was wound up earlier this month.

But the Government has promised to meet the former company's liabilities.

Peter Evans, the lawyer for one of the miners from the South Wales area, said British Coal had put profits before people.

"What we'd say that they did was that they did much too little and much too late. They often paid lip service to suppression of dust.

"If it was a question of production or safety then unfortunately and sadly for the miners, production tended to predominate."

[ image: cramped, dusty conditions] cramped, dusty conditions
When the miners involved in the case started in their jobs, coal had to be won by hand.

Many miners suffered the lung disease pneumoconiosis through inhaling dust particles.

That disease has been well-documeted medically and some miners have already received compensation for it.

But the eight say they also suffer from a range of other diseases, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, caused by inhaling dust.

They complain that they struggle to walk, shop or enjoy life and are dependent on medication.

[ image: Glyn Jones: never smoked cigarettes]
Glyn Jones: never smoked cigarettes
Glyn Jones, one of the eight who are suing, worked for more than 35 years at the Lady Windsor Colliery in South Wales, which is now closed.

He said: "All that coal that was being crushed behind, a tremendous amount of dust. You'd see men vomiting."

British Coal never accepted liability for the claims but reportedly put aside up to £1bn in case it had to settle before the industry was privatised.

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