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Friday, January 23, 1998 Published at 13:41 GMT


Miners win historic compensation claim
image: [ Floodgate is opened for claims from miners who worked as long ago as 1954 ]
Floodgate is opened for claims from miners who worked as long ago as 1954

Six miners who suffered chronic ill health from inhaling coal dust during their work have won compensation claims against the UK Government.

The High Court ruling opens the floodgate for tens of thousands of similar actions from miners who worked in the pits decades ago.

It could lead to the highest ever damages bill against a single British employer - the cost to the taxpayer could reach £1bn.

Mr Justice Turner awarded the six test case miners up to £10,000 each for pain, suffering and disability from emphysema and chronic bronchitis. All but one of the claims were reduced because smoking contributed to the diseases.

[ image: Dirty, unhealthy work]
Dirty, unhealthy work
The judge ruled against two miners, however, who claimed damages for other lung conditions such as asthma.

Much higher awards will be made after further evidence is heard on February 6 for damages such as loss of earnings, and medical and care costs.

The Department of Trade and Industry has already told solicitors to open negotiations towards a settlement for miners with outstanding claims who meet the criteria set out in the judgment.

Mr Justice Turner said there was abundant evidence that British Coal officials had placed coal production above health and safety.

[ image:  ]
He said the company failed to take reasonable steps to combat the effects of coal dust and failed to encourage the use of respirators - available from the mid-1960s.

British Coal, a former nationalised industry, was wound up earlier this month but its liabilities were transferred to the Government.

'Damning indictment'

Tom Jones, of Thompsons, a firm of solicitors that represented one miner and has 3,000 other cases on its books, described the judgment as "legal history".

Another solicitor, Peter Evans, who represented five plaintiffs, said the ruling was a "damning indictment of British Coal at all levels and throughout its entire history".

[ image: Glyn Jones:
Glyn Jones: "The long struggle has been worth it"
Glyn Jones, 71, one of the ex-miners who brought the case, said: "I would prefer to have my health than financial compensation - but the long struggle has been worth it if it allows thousands to make a claim."

Bleddyn Hancock, of the pit deputies union NACODS, which launched the legal battle in 1989, called on the Government to settle similar cases quickly.

[ image: Energy Minister John Battle]
Energy Minister John Battle
The Government said it accepted that British Coal's conduct resulted in many miners suffering from lung disease having their conditions worsened by dust.

Energy minister John Battle said arrangements to settle claims would be made "as soon as is practicable".

'Justice done at last'

Widow Connie Wells choked back tears as she learned of the victory. Her husband Sam, one of the plaintiffs, died in 1994 on his 71st birthday without knowing the outcome of the legal battle.

[ image: Miner's widow Connie Wells]
Miner's widow Connie Wells
"Sam would have been proud that justice has been done at last. Our case will help many families of miners who are still suffering," she said.

Mrs Wells, 69, of Maesteg, Mid Glamorgan, took her late husband's place in the action and was among those who gave evidence.

"Sam became so ill he spent the last five years of his life in agony. It has been a big strain for me, but I was determined I would see this through for him."

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Internet Links

Ohio University - Hazards of coal mining

National Coal Museum

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