Page last updated at 07:21 GMT, Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Inquiry told of Ayrshire mine rescue delay

Alison Hume
Ms Hume fell down the shaft in July 2008 as she made her way home

An inquiry into the death of a woman who fell down a mine has heard she lay for six hours because safety rules banned firefighters from rescuing her.

Alison Hume, 44, fell about 40ft into the shaft in Galston in July 2008.

A fatal accident inquiry into her death is being held at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court.

It has been told that fire crews could not aid Ms Hume because regulations stated their equipment was for saving themselves, not members of the public.

The 44-year-old solicitor, who worked with the Renfrewshire legal firm McCusker McElroy and Co, was discovered by her daughter and eventually freed by mountain rescue experts.

She died after suffering a heart attack just as she was brought to the surface.

Christopher Rooney, the first senior fire officer at the scene, told the FAI it would have been possible to pull her from the shaft had it not been for a health and safety memo.

Solicitor Gregor Forbes asked Mr Rooney: "On the basis of the manpower and equipment you had available, is it your view it would it would have been possible for the firefighters to have brought the person to the surface before the mountain rescue team?"

We heard Alison moaning and making distressed noises
Christopher Rooney
Former firefighter

Mr Rooney, 51, replied: "Yes, I believe so."

The now retired fireman said the memo was circulated around Strathclyde Fire and Rescue stations in March 2008 - just four months before the tragedy.

Mr Rooney agreed with Mr Forbes, representing Ms Hume's family, that the restrictions placed on the crews that night prevented them from acting as they may otherwise have done.

Mr Forbes said: "Your position is that while you were supplied with safe working at height equipment, while this could be used to bring up firefighters it could not be used to bring up a member of the public?"

Mr Rooney told the court: "Yes, that's correct."

He added that all 18 firefighters at the scene were trained and capable of using the equipment.

The inquiry was also shown video footage of crews at the scene of the accident.

Mr Rooney said he arrived at the scene at 0230 BST but was hampered by darkness and mist reducing visibility in places to just 1m.

He said Ms Hume's family led him to the 10m diameter hole which was partially concealed by bushes and long grass.

"We heard Alison moaning and making distressed noises," he added.

'Excessive delay'

Fireman Alexander Dunn was lowered down with oxygen and first aid equipment but because of the safety rule could only wait with Ms Hume until the mountain rescue team arrived.

The inquiry heard how he spent four hours with Ms Hume at the bottom of the shaft until he was joined by mountain rescue team members.

They strapped her into a special stretcher and she was finally brought out at 0742 GMT.

Mr Dunn, 51, who is now retired, described the time it took to rescue her as "excessive".

He was critical of the fire service debrief after the incident, saying he did not learn anything from it and it made no recommendations for the future.

He added that after seeing her injuries - an apparent swollen stomach and signs of a head injury - he wanted to "just pull her out."

Mr Dunn said the debrief failed to address key points including "what we could do in the future if anything like this happened again".

The inquiry continues.

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Probe into mine shaft death opens
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