UK Coal faces £1.2m payout over fatal mine safety breaches

HM Inspector of Mines Bob Leeming, outside Sheffield Crown Court
HM Inspector of Mines Bob Leeming, outside Sheffield Crown Court
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A JUDGE yesterday ordered the UK’s biggest mining firm to pay £1.2m in fines and costs after he heard how four miners died following safety breaches in four separate incidents.

UK Coal admitted offences under health and safety laws in relation to the deaths of Trevor Steeples, Paul Hunt, Anthony Garrigan and Paul Milner.

Mr Steeples, Mr Hunt and Mr Garrigan died following incidents at Daw Mill colliery, near Coventry, in 2006 and 2007. Mr Milner died after an incident at Welbeck Colliery in Nottinghamshire, which has since been closed, in 2007.

Mr Justice MacDuff said at Sheffield Crown Court that he would not impose a penalty so high it would cripple a company suffering real financial problems.

He said UK Coal, which is based at Harworth in Nottinghamshire, would be fined £112,500 in relation to each incident and would pay a further £187,500 in costs in each case.

But he urged the families of the dead men to focus on the total combined financial penalty.

Supervisor Mr Steeples died in June 2006 after being asphyxiated due to oxygen deprivation, when he was exposed to high levels of methane.

In August that year, Mr Hunt from Swadlincote in Derbyshire died at the same mine after falling from a poorly-maintained underground transporter into the path of a moving “train.”

In January 2007, Mr Garrigan from Thorne, Doncaster, also died at Daw Mill while assisting colleagues to install rockbolts to keep a tunnel support wall in place.

He was crushed when 100-plus tonnes of inadequately-supported coal and stone collapsed on top of him.

In November 2007, Mr Milner died while attempting to install roof supports so that equipment could be salvaged from a coal face that had ceased production.

He was crushed under about 90 tonnes of rock when a roof area at Welbeck Colliery collapsed.

UK Coal pleaded guilty to seven breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 at an earlier court hearing, in proceedings brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

After yesterday’s sentencing, HSE mines inspector Bob Leeming said: “Fewer than 4,000 people are employed in the UK mining sector, which makes four deaths within 18 months even more stark.

“These tragic incidents followed a four-and-a-half year period where there were no deaths in the whole UK mining industry.

“It is even more shocking that these preventable deaths were the fault of one company – UK Coal.

“All it would have taken to prevent these deaths was better management and proper hazard control by UK Coal.

“HSE brought this case because of the serious breaches that were uncovered during the investigations.

“UK Coal need to demonstrate that they have learned – and will act upon – the lessons from these deaths.”