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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 August, 2005, 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK
Families win fire tip legal fight
The tip burning close to homes five years ago
Residents complained of dust and health problems from the tip
Villagers who claimed their lives were blighted by a smouldering sulphurous coal tip near their homes have won a six-year legal battle.

The tip left over from the old Brynlliw colliery near Swansea caught fire in the summer of 1996 and burned for more than three years.

The fumes closed the nearby M4 motorway on several occasions.

The Coal Authority, which was held responsible in the High Court, said it may seek leave to appeal.

Villagers from Grovesend and Waungron suffered breathing difficulties before the fire was eventually put out and the tip made safe by Swansea Council.

Mr Justice Pitchford, in his judgment, said: "I have no difficulty in concluding that each claimant suffered loss of amenity and enjoyment of his or her property".

The Coal Authority - which deals with the liabilities of the National Coal Board and British Coal - had argued that it had sold the tip to a group of commoners in 1995.

Work on controlling the tip fire
Swansea council finally brought the burning under control in 1999

It said the blaze had been caused by people lighting fires on it.

But Mr Justice Pitchford, after a two week hearing in Swansea, ruled the fire was caused by spontaneous combustion and was a "foreseeable risk".

Resident Peter Arthur of Pentre Road, who was one of seven claimants in the case, said: "We suffered for almost four years as a result of this fire.

"The smoke often fell on the village like a blanket and you couldn't see a thing. The smell was awful.

"The judge has clearly let common sense prevail and accepted what we have been saying from the beginning."
House near the burning tip
Cars and homes near the tip had to be cleaned of dust

Neil Stockdale of Hugh James solicitors, who represented the villagers, said: "We obviously welcome the judge's carefully considered judgment.

"It proves that coal tips in this area do have the propensity to catch fire spontaneously and that in this case the Coal Authority didn't do enough to prevent it."

The amount of compensation involved in the case is not being disclosed.

Albert Schofield, chief executive of the Coal Authority, said: "We've got the result and we're minded to seek leave to appeal the decision.

"The basis of our case was that this fire was started by others.

"The judge found otherwise, but clearly there are a lot of other tips in south Wales where this doesn't seem to be happening."

The tip was a remnant of the Brynlliw colliery, which closed in 1982.

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