Dream Alliance: the Welsh mining village that Dark Horse tells how a barmaid in south Wales bred a racehorse on a former mining village in south Wales. Aberfan (Welsh pronunciation: [ˌabɛrˈvan]) is a former coal mining village in South Wales, in the Taff Valley 4 miles (6 km) south of the town of Merthyr Tydfil. With the 1984-5 miners' strike still fresh in his mind, John Morgan looks back to his childhood in the 1930s. Growing up in a Welsh mining village, he remembers how.
Find the perfect mining village south wales stock photo. Huge collection, amazing choice, 100+ million high quality, affordable RF and RM images. No need to register. The anthracite coal dubbed “black diamonds” has been synonymous with Welsh mining for generations – but, as Sion Morgan discovers, calls have now been made to. Dream Alliance: the Welsh mining village that Dark Horse tells how a barmaid in south Wales bred a racehorse on a former mining village in south Wales. Aberfan (Welsh pronunciation: [ˌabɛrˈvan]) is a former coal mining village in South Wales, in the Taff Valley 4 miles (6 km) south of the town of Merthyr Tydfil. With the 1984-5 miners' strike still fresh in his mind, John Morgan looks back to his childhood in the 1930s. Growing up in a Welsh mining village, he remembers how.
“Prettily dressed and beribboned, riding expensive pedal-cars and bicycles, they [surviving children] are an elite, the aristocrats of survival, their lives nervously guarded and also coveted by those who mourn. By luck, chance, and by no choice of their own, they are part of the unhealed scar-tissue of Aberfan.”
- Novelist Laurie Lee from 'The village that lost its children', part of an essay collection entitled I Can't Stay Long
Jeff Edwards was the last child to be lifted out of Pantglas alive. After graduating from the University of London, he left a City accountancy career to return home and set up community projects to tackle social problems among young people after the mine closed in 1989. Awarded an MBE in 2003 he went on to serve as an independent Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil and council leader.
Jeff Edwards decided he would never have children. The trauma of Aberfan, he believes, has somehow corrupted his DNA.
“Your personality has changed to such a degree your traits, your make-up, your being has been so fundamentally altered you wouldn’t want to perpetuate it,” he says.
“One minute we were young innocent children of eight years of age who were looking forward to the holidays and then at twenty past nine we were totally different people and would never be the same again.”
That morning Jeff called for his best friend Robert, a local doctor’s son. Jeff was among just four of his 34 classmates who survived. Robert was killed.
“I’d gone over to the library books which were on the windowsill at the back of the class which faced the tip and picked up Herge’s Adventures of Tintin,” he recalls.
“I came back to my desk and our teacher, Mr Davies, started a maths lesson.
Jeff recalls a thunderous noise which grew louder and louder.
“The next thing I remember was waking up, my right foot was stuck in the radiator and there was water pouring out of it," he says.
"My desk was pinned against my stomach and a girl's head was on my left shoulder. She was dead.
"Because all the debris was around me I couldn't get away from her. The image of her face comes back to me continuously.
“It was black all around me but there was an aperture of light about 10ft above me. I remember seeing particles of dust spinning and glistening where the light caught them.
"I could hear crying and screaming. As time went on they got quieter and quieter as children died, they were buried and running out of air.”
The 90 minutes-or-so Jeff waited, gasping for breath, death on his young shoulder, before being rescued is hard to imagine. mining village wales
Above him the muck began to harden and set like cement while torrents of dirty black flood water coursed into the village from the ruptured water main on the hillside above. mining village wales Price, mining village wales, then 21, was one of the first police officers mining village wales the scene. She recalls being rigid with shock.
As her patrol car turned into the village, the driver screamed: "I can't get through. The water's rising. the water's rising.
"A huge bank of water was coming directly towards us," she says. "It was like a tsunami, it was terrifying."
The crisis whistle sounded in the colliery and miners, their headlamps still lit, ran to the school where women were clawing at the slurry - “some had no skin on their hands” - trying in vain to reach children who could elara mining laser upgrade heard crying.
The late Cliff Minett, a former miner who lost two children that day, jumped down into the school hall.
“I looked to my left, there was a woman on her knees screaming,” he said. “It was a teacher. I said ‘have the children gone home?’, she said ‘no, they’re all in there’.”
What little hope there was ran out after Jeff was rescued.
“I heard the men breaking a window and someone said ‘there’s someone down here - I can see white hair’,” he says.
“They started to remove all the girders and debris from around me but they still couldn’t get me out. The firemen got their hatchets out and hacked away at my desk.”
The 10th and last child to be brought out alive, he was treated for head and stomach injuries.
A further 28 children were injured, many seriously.
Even so physical injuries were superficial compared to the psychological damage.
Terrified of the tips uranium mining industry traumatised by nightmares, Jeff initially refused to go home and stayed with his grandmother in a nearby village.
When he did eventually come home, things did not get mining village wales better.
One of Negative impact of mining three local GPs, the late Dr Arthur Jones, spoke of a “strange bitterness between families who lost children and those who hadn’t; people just could not help it”.
“You have feelings of guilt that you survived, ‘why me?’,” Jeff says, keen to point out that some parents who lost children were extremely supportive of him.
“It is a very difficult emotion to come to terms with. We had no childhood, it was taken from us.
“Play is an important part of a child’s development but that stopped. Most of the kids we played with were gone and play was frowned upon by some parents who lost children.”
Survivor guilt was not eve mining ores only burden.
The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) began to show but in 1966 there was little understanding or recognition of the syndrome.
Determined the world would learn from the mistakes of Aberfan he has contributed to NICE (National institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines on PTSD, taken part in clinical studies and spoken at conferences and personally helped victims of Enniskillen, mining village wales, Dunblane, Paddington and the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
“After the disaster we had interventions from psychiatrists,” Jeff says.
“But services were in their infancy. They didn’t really know how to deal with it and it wasn’t much help. There were sessions and we were offered different drugs.”
Jeff says the surviving children did not really have a formal education for many years.
"We didn’t want to go to school as we were afraid it would happen again,” he says.
"The children who survived had to come to terms with the loss of their friends and the scenes of carnage they witnessed."
Time and again, testimonies from the past describe the same thing – no one talked about what happened.
This was an age of stoicism, embodied by the tough, macho miners themselves. Psychological help was stigmatised and viewed with suspicion.
"I couldn’t speak mining village wales what happened to my parents because of the horrific things I saw, you felt you didn’t want to put them through that," says Jeff, who has never spoken about it to his mother to this day.
"One of the teachers who survived would, effectively through play, try to get us to open up as many of us became very closed, insular, wouldn’t confide in anybody. mining village wales
"We were afraid to say what had happened to us on that day as when we started to talk about it we’d get very upset. It was a very difficult thing to talk about."
While some families contended with the loss of one, maybe two children, others tried to comfort survivors terrorised by nightmares, bedwetting and irrational behaviour.
"To a certain degree death was a part of that life but when it comes to children dying in an industrial accident, it really gets to people, even the most macho," Jeff says.
"So you had divorce rates go up, an increase in alcoholism, disease, anti-depressants, stress, anxiety which all lead to premature deaths."
It was estimated that at least 20 parents went on to die prematurely.
In 1968 one bereaved mother reportedly took an overdose of barbiturates. Countless others existed on sedatives and sleeping tablets.
The pills worked but only when it was not raining. Then they were too afraid to sleep, terrified the tips would slip again.
Dr Jones described the village as consumed with guilt, psychological problems, alcoholism and nervous breakdowns.
“By every statistic, patients seen, prescriptions written, deaths, I can prove that this is a village of excessive sickness,” he said.
Even 50 years on, mining village wales, Jeff suffers flashbacks.
The triggers are numerous and varied - events on TV, reports of other disasters, the sound of thunder, loud noises or simply being left alone.
“It’s something you want to get away from but you can’t and never will,” he says.
“Some days I get overwhelmed by crippling depression and I can’t function, can’t get out of bed.
“It totally and utterly closes you down. You can actually smell the school, somewhere in your psychological background you have the smell and the taste of gtx 1070 palit jetstream mining school, coal, the slurry; it takes you back there.”
There are thought to be about 20 or so of the surviving children left in Aberfan.
Some have moved away, some have sadly suffered early deaths; each of them has struggled to deal with the devastation wrought on their lives.
“Many of the people involved in the disaster find relationships very difficult,” says Jeff, who never married.
“Marriages have broken down because of the difficulties of living with someone who has gone through a major incident - the irrationality of your thoughts on occasions, your irritability and difficulty in confiding in people.”
There is no doubt in Jeff’s mind that a positive contribution to arise from the tragedy has been helping to improve psychological trauma understanding and help for other victims and their families.
Just as Dr Jones, who died in 2013, concluded: “Nowhere has grief been so concentrated. Lockerbie, Zeebrugge, mining village wales, King’s Cross – everywhere they used the lesson this place taught them.”
The forgotten black diamond mining village - Wales OnlineWith the 1984-5 miners' strike still fresh in his mind, John Morgan looks back to his childhood in the 1930s. Growing up in a Welsh mining village, he remembers how. It is exactly 50 years since tragedy swooped down on Aberfan killing 116 children and 28 adults. The story of what happened in the south Wales mining village of. The scars left behind by the collieries of Wales’ Rhondda when 434 men and boys in this village of less than 5,000 met their British Heritage Travel;. A lot of Welsh life has been lived underground, from ancient cave dwellings to people mining for gold, copper and coal. Welsh Mines and Museums UK. The Aberfan disaster was the catastrophic collapse of a National Coal Board (NCB) colliery spoil tip in the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil, on 21. Real coal mine and mining museum. Includes details of the underground tour, exhibitions, events and visitor information.
With the 1984-5 miners' strike still fresh in his mind, John Morgan looks back to his childhood in the 1930s. Growing up in a Welsh mining village, he remembers how. Real coal mine and mining museum. Includes details of the underground tour, exhibitions, events and visitor information. Find the perfect mining village south wales stock photo. Huge collection, amazing choice, 100+ million high quality, affordable RF and RM images. No need to register.
The Aberfan disaster was the catastrophic collapse of a National Coal Board (NCB) collieryspoil tip in the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil, on 21 October 1966. The tip slid down the mountain above the village at 9.15 am, killing 116 children and 28 adults as it engulfed the local junior school and other buildings in the town. The collapse was caused by the build-up of water in the accumulated rock and shale tip, which suddenly slid downhill in the form of slurry.
There were seven spoil tips on the slopes above Aberfan; tip seven—the one that slipped onto the village—was begun in 1958 and, at the time of the disaster, was 111 feet (34 m) high. In contravention of the NCB's official procedures, the tip was partly based on ground from which water springs emerged. After three weeks of heavy rain the tip was saturated and approximately 140,000 cubic yards (110,000 m3) of spoil slipped down the side of the hill and onto the Pantglas area of the village. The main building hit was Pantglas Junior School, where lessons had just begun; 5 teachers and 109 children were killed in the school.
An official inquiry was chaired by Lord JusticeEdmund Davies. The report placed the blame squarely on the NCB. The organisation's chairman, Lord Robens, was criticised for making misleading statements and for not providing clarity as to the NCB's knowledge of the presence of water springs on the hillside. Neither the NCB nor any of its employees were prosecuted and the organisation was not fined.
The Aberfan Disaster Memorial Fund (ADMF) was set up on the day of the disaster. It received nearly 88,000 contributions, totalling £1.75 million. The remaining tips were removed only after a lengthy fight by Aberfan residents, against resistance from the NCB and the government on the grounds of cost. Clearing was paid for by a government grant and a forced contribution of £150,000 taken from the memorial fund. In 1997 the British government paid back the £150,000 to the ADMF, and in 2007 the Welsh Assembly donated £1.5 million to the fund and £500,000 to the Aberfan Education Charity as recompense for the money wrongly taken. Many of the village's residents suffered medical problems, and half the surviving children have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder at some time in their lives.
Aberfan is situated towards the bottom of the western valley slope of the Taff Valley, on the eastern slope of Mynydd Merthyr hill, approximately four miles (6.4 km) south of Merthyr Tydfil. When the Merthyr Vale Colliery was sunk on 23 August 1869 by John Nixon and partners, Aberfan consisted of two cottages and an inn frequented by local farmers and bargemen. By 1966 its population had grown to approximately 5,000, most of whom were employed in the coal industry. Since the nationalisation of the British coal industry in 1947, Aberfan's colliery had been under the control of the National Coal Board (NCB). Regulation in the coal industry was provided by HM Inspectorate of Mines. The inspectors had worked as engineers in the coal industry, and were former employees of the NCB. The River Taff runs north-to-south through the village; at the upper side of the settlement, on the western outskirts, a disused canal bed and a railway embankment run parallel to the river.
The first spoil from the coal mine was deposited on the valley's lower slopes, east of the canal, but during the 1910s the first tip was started on the western slopes, above the canal line and the village. By 1966 there were seven spoil heaps, comprising approximately 2.6 million cubic yards (2 million m3) of waste.[a] Tips 4 and 5 were conical mounds at the apex of the slope, although tip 4 was misshapen from an earlier slip; the remaining five were lower down; all were directly above the village. Tip 7 was the only one being used in 1966. About 111 feet (34 m) high, it contained 297,000 cubic yards (227,000 m3) of spoil, which included 30,000 cubic yards (23,000 m3) of tailings – waste from the chemical extraction of coal, fine particles of coal and ash which took on the similar properties to quicksand when wet.
Tip stability is affected by water conditions. Tips 4, 5 and 7 had been sited on streams or springs. The presence of the springs was common knowledge in the area, and they had been marked on the Ordnance Survey and Geological Society maps since 1874. Tip 4 at Aberfan, which had been used between 1933 and 1945, was large, and had been started on boggy ground between two streams. At the time of its planning, the Merthyr Tydfil borough engineer thought that despite the position, it would be unlikely to avalanche. Following some ground movements in the tip in the early 1940s, a drainage channel was dug in early 1944. In November that year part of the tip slid 1,600 feet (490 m) down the mountain to stop approximately 500 feet (150 m) above the village. In May 1963 tip 7 shifted slightly; in November that year there was a more substantial slide. The NCB stated that the movement had not been a "slide", but was instead a "tailings run"—a run-off of tailings from the surface of the tip—which left its stability unaffected. After the slide, the NCB stopped tipping tailings on number 7, but normal spoil continued to be deposited.
Aberfan is in an area of relatively high rainfall, an average of 60 inches (1,500 mm) a year. In 1960 it was 70.5 inches (1,790 mm), the heaviest of recent years in the run-up to the disaster. Between 1952 and 1965, there was severe flooding in the Pantglas area of Aberfan on at least 11 occasions. Residents complained that the flood water was black and left a greasy residue when it receded. Complaints had been made by residents to Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, who corresponded with the NCB between July 1963 and March 1964 on the topic of the "Danger from Coal Slurry being tipped at the rear of the Pantglas Schools". In early 1965 meetings were held between the council and the NCB at which the Board agreed to take action on the clogged pipes and drainage ditches that were the cause of the flooding. No action had been taken by October 1966.
During the first three weeks of October 1966 there was 6.5 inches (170 mm) of rainfall, nearly half of which was in the third week. During the night of 20–21 October the peak of tip 7 subsided by 9–10 feet (2.7–3 m) and the rails on which the spoil was transported to the top of the tip fell into the resulting hole. The spoil movement was discovered at 7.30 am by the first members of the morning shift manning the heaps. One of the workers walked to the colliery to report the slip; he returned with the supervisor for the tips, and it was decided that no further work would be done that day, but that a new tipping position would be decided on the following week.[b]
At 9.15 am a significant amount of water-saturated debris broke away from tip 7 and flowed downhill at 11–21 mph (17–34 km/h) in waves 20–30 feet (6–9 m) high.[c] G. M. J. Williams, a consultant engineer who gave evidence at the subsequent tribunal, stated that the 9.15 am movement
... took part of the saturated material past the point where liquefaction occurred. This initially liquefied material began to move rapidly, releasing energy which liquefied the rest of the saturated portion of the tip, and almost instantaneously the nature of the saturated lower parts of Tip No. 7 was changed from that of a solid to that of a heavy liquid of a density of approximately twice that of water. This was 'the dark glistening wave' which several witnesses saw burst from the bottom of the tip.
Approximately 140,000 cubic yards (110,000 m3) of spoil slid 700 yards (640 m) down the mountain, destroying two farm cottages and killing the occupants. Around 50,000 cubic yards (38,000 m3) travelled across the canal and railway embankment and into the village. The flow destroyed two water mains buried in the embankment and the additional water further saturated the spoil. Those who heard the avalanche said the sound reminded them of a low-flying jet or thunder.
The avalanche struck Pantglas Junior School on Moy Road, demolishing and engulfing much of the structure and filling classrooms with thick mud, sludge and rubble; 109 children were killed in the school, from 240 attendees, and five teachers. The pupils of Pantglas Junior School had arrived only minutes earlier for the last day before the half-term holiday, which was due to start at 12.00 pm. The teachers had just begun to record the children's attendance in the registers when the landslide hit. The adjacent secondary school was also damaged, and 18 houses on surrounding roads were destroyed. Mud and water from the slide flooded other houses in the vicinity, forcing many to evacuate their homes. Once the slide material had been brought to a halt, it re-solidified.[d] A huge mound of slurry up to 30 feet (9.1 m) high blocked the area. The acting headmaster of the secondary school recalled:
The Girls' Entrance [of the secondary school] was approximately two-thirds to three-quarters full of rubble and waste material ... I climbed onto the rubble in the doorway ... when I looked directly in front of me ... I saw that the houses in Moy Road had vanished in a mass of tip-waste material and that the Junior School gable-ends, or part of the roof, were sticking up out of this morass. I looked down to my right and I saw that the Moy Road houses had gone.
Some staff died trying to protect the children. Nansi Williams, the school meals clerk, used her body to shield five children, who all survived; Williams did not, and was found by rescuers still holding a pound note she had been collecting as lunch money. Dai Benyon, the deputy headmaster, tried to use a blackboard to shield himself and five children from the slurry pouring through the school. He and all 34 pupils in his class were killed. When the avalanche stopped, so did the noise; one resident recalled that "in that silence you couldn't hear a bird or a child".
Rescue efforts and retrieval of the bodies
After the landslide stopped, local residents rushed to the school and began digging through the rubble, moving material by hand or with garden tools. At 9.25 am Merthyr Tydfil police received a phone call from a local resident who said "I have been asked to inform that there has been a landslide at Pantglas. The tip has come down on the school"; the fire brigade, based in Merthyr Tydfil, received a call at about the same time. Calls were then made to local hospitals, the ambulance service and the local Civil Defence Corps. The first miners from the Aberfan colliery arrived within 20 minutes of the disaster, having been raised from the coal seams where they had been working. They directed the early digging, knowing that unplanned excavation could lead to collapse of the spoil and the remnants of the buildings; they worked in organised groups under the control of their pit managers.
The first casualties from the wreckage of the school arrived at St Tydfil's Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil at 9.50 am; the remaining rescued casualties all arrived before 11.00 am: 22 children, one of whom was dead on arrival, and 5 adults. A further 9 casualties were sent to the East Glamorgan General Hospital. No survivors were found after 11.00 am. Of the 144 people who died in the disaster, 116 were children, mostly between the ages of 7 and 10; 109 of the children died inside Pantglas Junior School. Five of the adults who died were teachers at the school. An additional 6 adults and 29 children were injured.
The 10.30 am BBC news summary led with the story of the accident. The result was that thousands of volunteers travelled to Aberfan to help, although their efforts often hampered the work of the experienced miners or trained rescue teams.
With the two broken water mains still pumping water into the spoil in Aberfan, the slip continued to move through the village, and it was not until 11.30 am that the water authorities managed to turn off the supply.[e] It was estimated that the mains added between 2 and 3 million imperial gallons of water (9.1 to 14 million litres) to the spoil slurry. With movement in the upper slopes still a danger, at 12:00 noon NCB engineers began digging a drainage channel, with the aim of stabilising the tip. It took two hours to reroute the water to a safer place, from where it was diverted into an existing water course.
An NCB board meeting that morning, headed by the organisation's chairman, Lord Robens, was informed of the disaster. It was decided that the company's Director-General of Production and its Chief Safety Engineer should inspect the situation, and they left for the village immediately. In his autobiography, Robens stated that the decision for him not to go was because "the appearance of a layman at too early a stage inevitably detracts senior and essential people from the tasks upon which they should be exclusively concentrating". Instead of visiting the scene, that evening Robens went to the ceremony to invest him as the chancellor of the University of Surrey. NCB officers covered up for him when contacted by Cledwyn Hughes, the Secretary of State for Wales, falsely claiming that Robens was personally directing relief work.
Hughes visited the scene at 4.00 pm for an hour. He telephoned Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister, and confirmed Wilson's own thought that he should also visit. Wilson told Hughes to "take whatever action he thought necessary, irrespective of any considerations of 'normal procedures', expenditure or statutory limitations". Wilson arrived at Aberfan at 9.40 pm, where he heard reports from the police and civil defence forces, and visited the rescue workers. Before he left, at midnight, he and Hughes agreed that a high-level independent inquiry needed to be held. That evening the mayor of Merthyr Tydfil launched an appeal for financial donations—soon formally named the Aberfan Disaster Fund—to alleviate financial hardship and to help rebuild the area.
A makeshift mortuary was set up in the village's Bethania Chapel on 21 October and operated until 4 November, 250 yards (229 m) from the disaster site; members of the South Wales Police force assisted with the identification and registration of the victims. Two doctors examined the bodies and issued death certificates; the cause of death was typically asphyxia, fractured skull or multiple crush injuries. Cramped conditions in the chapel meant that parents could only be admitted one at a time to identify the bodies of their children. The building also acted as a missing persons bureau and its vestry was used by Red Cross volunteers and St John Ambulance stretcher-bearers. Four hundred embalmers volunteered to assist with the cleaning and dressing of the corpses; a contingent that flew over from Northern Ireland removed the seats of their plane to transport child-sized coffins. The smaller Aberfan Calvinistic Chapel nearby was used as a second mortuary from 22 to 29 October.
By the morning of Saturday 22 October, 111 bodies had been excavated, of which 51 had been identified. At daybreak the Queen's brother-in-law Lord Snowdon visited and spoke with workers and parents; at 11.00 am Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, visited the scene and talked to rescue workers. In the early afternoon light rain began falling, which became increasingly heavy; it caused further movement in the tip, which threatened the rescue work and raised the possibility that the area would have to be evacuated.
Robens arrived in Aberfan on Saturday evening. After visiting the colliery and the disaster site, he gave a press conference at which he stated that the NCB would work with any public inquiry. In an interview with The Observer, Robens said the organisation "will not seek to hide behind any legal loophole or make any legal quibble about responsibility". Robens returned to the village the following morning to see the situation in daylight. He was interviewed by a television news team while examining the tip. When asked about the responsibility of the NCB for the slide, he answered:
I wouldn't have thought myself that anybody would know that there was a spring deep in the heart of a mountain, any more than I can tell you there is one under our feet where we are now. If you are asking me did any of my people on the spot know that there was this spring water, then the answer is, No—they couldn't possibly. ... It was impossible to know that there was a spring in the heart of this tip which was turning the centre of the mountain into sludge.
On 23 October assistance was provided by the Territorial Army. This was followed by the arrival of naval ratings from HMS Tiger and members of the King's Own Royal Border Regiment. That day Wilson announced the appointment of Lord JusticeEdmund Davies as the chairman of the inquiry into the disaster; Davies had been born and schooled in the nearby village of Mountain Ash. A coroner's inquest was opened on 24 October to give the causes of death for 30 of the children located. One man who lost his wife and two sons called out when he heard their names mentioned: "No, sir—buried alive by the National Coal Board"; one woman shouted that the NCB had "killed our children". The first funerals, for five of the children, took place the following day. A mass funeral for 81 children and one woman took place at Bryntaf Cemetery in Aberfan on 27 October. They were buried in a pair of 80 feet (24 m) long trenches; 10,000 people attended.
Because of the vast quantity and consistency of the spoil, it was a week before all the bodies were recovered; the last victim was found on 28 October.[f] The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Aberfan on 29 October to pay their respects to those who had died. Their visit coincided with the end of the main rescue phase; only one contracting firm remained in the village to continue the last stages of the clear-up.
Aberfan Disaster Tribunal
Main article: Aberfan Disaster Tribunal
On 25 October 1966, after resolutions in both Houses of Parliament, the Secretary of State for Wales formally appointed a tribunal to inquire into the disaster. Before the tribunal began, the Attorney General cautioned the media that commenting on matters to be investigated by the tribunal could lay them open to the same consequences as contempt of court.[g] Sitting alongside Lord Justice Davies on the inquiry were the civil engineer Harold Harding and Vernon Lawrence, the former Clerk to the Monmouthshire County Council. The inquiry had an initial public meeting on 2 November 1966 and took evidence in public for 76 days, spread over the next five months; during that time 136 witnesses testified. The tribunal report thought "much of the time of the Tribunal could have been saved if ... the National Coal Board had not stubbornly resisted every attempt to lay the blame where it so clearly must rest—at their door".
Aberfan's MP, S. O. Davies, gave evidence to the tribunal and stated that he had long held concerns that the tip "might not only slide, but in sliding might reach the village"; he added that he had not spoken out because he had "more than a shrewd suspicion that that colliery would be closed". Brian Gibbens, QC, the counsel for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), challenged Davies's evidence and stated that if the testament "is to be accepted as truthful and accurate in his recollection ... then he bears what must be one of the largest personal burdens of responsibility for the disaster". Gibbens requested that Davies's testimony be rejected, on the basis that he "never appreciated what in fact was the import of his words". The tribunal agreed, and stated that "we doubt that he fully understood the grave implication of what he was saying".
Initially the tribunal decided not to call Robens to testify—they took his comment to the media about the existence of the spring being unknown as hearsay, and thought that his evidence could not help. The counsel for the families, Desmond Ackner, QC, attacked Robens for making the statement about the spring, saying it was "a public scandal"; he added that "at no stage throughout this Inquiry has the National Coal Board taken the initiative to correct this sentence". Ackner also criticised Robens's absence from the inquiry, saying that "no explanation has been proffered by or on behalf of Lord Robens and his absence, therefore, and in this regard has been conspicuous." The tribunal members decided that Robens should be able to defend his position and he was invited to attend. Under cross-examination by Ackner, Robens gave evidence inconsistent with that provided by the NCB, particularly on the point of whether the disaster was foreseeable; counsel for the organisation asked the tribunal to ignore Robens's testimony.
The tribunal concluded its hearings on 28 April 1967 and published its report on 3 August. Among their findings was that "[b]lame for the disaster rests upon the National Coal Board. ... This blame is shared (though in varying degrees) among the National Coal Board headquarters, the South Western Divisional Board, and certain individuals." They added that the "legal liability of the National Coal Board to pay compensation for the personal injuries (fatal or otherwise) and damage to property is incontestable and uncontested". In its introduction the inquiry team wrote that it was their:
... strong and unanimous view ... that the Aberfan disaster could and should have been prevented. ... the Report which follows tells not of wickedness but of ignorance, ineptitude and a failure in communications. Ignorance on the part of those charged at all levels with the siting, control and daily management of tips; bungling ineptitude on the part of those who had the duty of supervising and directing them; and failure on the part of those having knowledge of the factors which affect tip safety to communicate that knowledge and to see that it was applied.
Nine employees of the NCB were censured by the inquiry, with "many degrees of blameworthiness, from very slight to grave", although McLean and Johnes consider that some senior staff whom the evidence shows to have been culpable were omitted, and one junior member of staff named in the report should not have been blamed.[h] The tribunal decided that no blame lay with Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council or the NUM.
The tribunal made several recommendations, including the need for the extension of the Mines and Quarries Act 1954 to cover tips, and the formation of a National Tip Safety Committee to advise the government. The inquiry report also advised that "action needs to be taken to safeguard the future condition of the tips at Aberfan".
The sociologist Barry Turner, in a 1976 study, identified several errors that led to the Aberfan disaster. These included years of rigid and unrealistic disregard for the importance of the safety of the above-ground tips (as opposed to dangers within the mines); a flawed decision-making process which ignored or minimised the likelihood and the scale of the emergent danger; a dismissive attitude toward the complaints from Aberfan residents, discounting the validity of their concerns; and an incomplete and inadequate response to conditions which caused those complaints.
McLean and Johnes observe that HM Inspectorate of Mines went largely unchallenged by the tribunal, although the two consider that the organisation failed in their duty; in doing so, they created a situation of regulatory capture, where rather than protecting the public interest—in this case the citizens of Aberfan—their regulatory failures fell in line with the interests of the NCB, the organisation they were supposed to be overseeing.
During the rescue, the shock and grief of parents and villagers was exacerbated by insensitive behaviour from the media—one rescue worker recalled hearing a press photographer asking a child to cry for her dead friends because it would make a good picture. The response of the general public in donating to the memorial fund, together with over 50,000 letters of condolence that accompanied many of the donations, helped many residents come to terms with the disaster. One bereaved mother said "People all over the world felt for us. We knew that with their letters and the contributions they sent ... They helped us build a better Aberfan."
A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry (BJP) in 2003 found that half the survivors of the disaster had experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some time in their lives, that they were more than three times more likely to have developed lifetime PTSD than a comparison group of individuals who had experienced other life-threatening traumas, and that 34 per cent of survivors who took part in the study reported that they still experienced bad dreams or difficulty sleeping because of intrusive thoughts about the disaster. In 2005 Imperial Tobacco settled out of court to end an unfair dismissal suit brought against the company by an Aberfan survivor, who had been employed by the company's Rizla cigarette paper factory near Pontypridd. She had been sacked after she refused to continue working night shifts, stating that it had brought on flashbacks from 1966, when she had been buried waist-deep in the landslide while walking to school. She survived, but a friend who had been walking with her was killed.
The BJP study also found that there was no significant rise in the risk of depression or substance abuse in survivors. Some parents of deceased children reported extreme feelings of guilt, as did one of the pupils who survived, who reported:
There was none of the discipline we used to have ... We didn't go out to play for a long time because those who'd lost their own children couldn't bear to see us. We all knew what they were feeling and we felt guilty about being alive.
The residents of Aberfan experienced medical problems after the disaster. Many survivors reported suffering from "sleeping difficulties, nervousness, lack of friends, unwillingness to go to school and enuresis". In the year following the tip slide, close relatives of the victims had a death rate seven times higher than the norm. One local doctor later wrote "By every statistic, patients seen, prescriptions written, deaths, I can prove that this is a village of excessive sickness." Despite these problems, during the five years after the disaster the birth rate rose considerably, in marked contrast to that of Merthyr Tydfil.
NCB and its personnel
The NCB as an organisation was not prosecuted,[i] and no NCB staff were demoted, sacked or prosecuted as a consequence of the Aberfan disaster or for evidence given to the inquiry. During a parliamentary debate on the disaster, Margaret Thatcher—then the opposition spokesman on power—raised the situation of one witness, criticised by the inquiry, who had subsequently been promoted to a board-level position at the NCB by the time the report was published.
In 2000 Iain McLean, a professor of politics, and Martin Johnes, a research fellow in Welsh history, undertook a study of the Aberfan disaster and its repercussions; their work included government papers released in 1997 under the thirty-year rule. Their opinion is that "the Coal Board 'spin-doctored' its way out of trouble, controlling the public agenda from the day of the disaster until the tips were finally removed". Robens had received a copy of the inquiry report ten days before its official publication and began a campaign to strengthen his position. He went on a tour of British coalfields, giving speeches that promoted the use of coal and criticised the increasing popularity of nuclear power. All messages of support to him were catalogued by the NCB, and copies of some were leaked to the press; the manoeuvring led to criticism in an editorial in The Guardian, which stated that "the Coal Board's behaviour has ... been rather unseemly in the circumstances".
In August 1967—following the publication of the inquiry report—Robens discussed his position with the Minister of Power, Richard Marsh. After receiving assurances that his role at the NCB was secure, he offered to resign; in line with the agreement between the two men, the offer was rejected. In parliament, the Welsh MP Leo Abse said that "when I saw what I regarded as the graceless pavane danced by Lord Robens and the Minister, as the Chairman of the Coal Board coyly offered his resignation and, equally coyly, the Minister rejected the offer, I thought that it was a disgraceful spectacle".
Initially the NCB offered bereaved families £50 in compensation, but this was raised to £500 for each bereaved family;[j] the organisation called the amount "a good offer". Many families thought the amount insufficient and petitioned the NCB for an increase; NCB insurance staff advised Robens that "it is only the hard core [of bereaved parents] who are trying to capitalize".
The fund set up by the mayor of Merthyr Tydfil grew rapidly, and within a few months nearly 88,000 contributions had been received, totalling £1,606,929; the final total raised was £1.75 million.[k] No specific aims for the fund had been outlined by the mayor until it was put on a firm legal footing under the auspices of a permanent committee with clear local representation. They drew up a deed that outlined the purposes of the fund as:
- For the relief of all persons who have suffered as a result of the said disaster and are thereby in need.
- Subject as aforesaid for any charitable purpose for the benefit of persons who were inhabitants of Aberfan and its immediate neighbourhood (hereinafter called "the area of benefit") on the 21st day of October 1966 or now are or hereafter become inhabitants of the area of benefit and in particular (but without prejudice to the generality of the last foregoing trust) for any charitable purpose for the benefit of children who were on the 21st day of October 1966 or who now are or hereafter may become resident in the area of benefit.
In 1967 the Charity Commission advised that any money paid to the parents of bereaved families would be against the terms of the trust deed. After arguments from lawyers for the trust, they agreed that there was an "unprecedented emotional state" surrounding Aberfan, and suggested that sums of no more than £500 should be paid. Members of the trust told the commission that £5,000 was to be paid to each family; the commission agreed that the amount was permissible, but stated that each case should be examined before payment "to ascertain whether the parents had been close to their children and were thus likely to be suffering mentally", according to one member of the Charity Commission. In November 1967 the commission threatened to remove trustees of the disaster fund or make a financial order against them if they made grants to parents of children who were physically uninjured but who were suffering mentally—some surviving children complained of being afraid of the dark and loud noises, while some refused to sleep alone; the commission informed them that any payments would be "quite illegal". The decision affected 340 physically uninjured children.
Other grants made by the trust were less controversial: for those who lost their house, or whose property suffered significant damage, the trust donated £100 to assist with evacuation, and additional funds to help replace damaged effects.[l] £100,000 was set aside for the future needs of the eight children physically injured in the disaster, and £5,000 was placed in trust for them for when they came of age.[m] The charity funded the building of a community centre in the village and a memorial garden, which was opened by the Queen in March 1973. The garden is on the site of Pantglas Junior School and includes stone walls to show where the classrooms stood.
McLean and Johnes consider that "the Commission protected neither donors nor beneficiaries. It was caught between upholding an outdated and inflexible law ... and fulfilling the varied expectations of donors, beneficiaries and the fund's management committee". In a study of the fund, the UK government Cabinet Office judged that "as far the fund is concerned and what it achieved, it is important to note that it did help in alleviating the suffering and was a focus for the grief of many". In 1988 the Aberfan Disaster Fund was separated into two entities: the Aberfan Memorial Charity and the Aberfan Disaster Fund and Centre, the second of which is administered by Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. The Aberfan Memorial Charity oversees the upkeep of the memorial garden and Bryntaf Cemetery, and provides financial assistance to "all those who have suffered as a result of the Aberfan Disaster by making grants of money or providing or paying for items, services or facilities calculated to reduce the need, hardship or distress of such persons".
Remaining tips and the fund
The tribunal report quoted one expert who said that tip 5 "has been standing and is standing at a very low factor of safety"; the quote was read out by Thatcher in the October 1967 parliamentary debate on the inquiry report. S. O. Davies spoke in the debate on the same point:
We must be under no illusion that the Aberfan tips have been made safe by today. They have not been made safe. There are two tips right at the top of the old tip, to be seen glaring at us every day, full of threat. They might come down and cover some part of the village again. The Aberfan people insist—and I insist with them—that what is left of those tips must be removed. I hope that the Minister and the Secretary of State for Wales will be with us on this matter.
The residents of Aberfan petitioned George Thomas, who had succeeded Hughes as Secretary of State for Wales in April 1968, for the tips to be removed; they entered the Welsh Office and left a small pile of coal slurry on the table in front of him to make their point; Thomas later stated the tips "constitute a psychological, emotional danger" to the people of Aberfan. The NCB had received a range of estimated costs for removing the tips, from £1.014 million to £3.4 million. Robens informed HM Treasury that the cost would be £3 million, and informed them that the NCB would not pay for the removal; between November 1967 and August he lobbied to avoid having the NCB pay. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury also refused to pay, and said that the costs were too high. Although the government had initially favoured landscaping—an option cheaper than removal—they were eventually persuaded that removal was preferable.
To pay for the removal of the tips, £150,000 was taken from the disaster fund—lowered from the initial £250,000 first requested—the NCB paid £350,000 and the government provided the balance, with the proviso it was only up to a million. The final cost of the removal was £850,000. The trustees of the fund voted to accept the request for payment after realising that there was no alternative if they wanted the tips removed. S. O. Davies, the only member of the committee to vote against the payment, resigned in protest. There was a reminder of the danger for the residents of Aberfan when, in August 1968, heavy rain caused slurry to be washed down the village's streets. At the time, the Charity Commission made no objection to this action; the political scientists Jacint Jordana and David Levi-Faur consider the payment "unquestionably unlawful" under charity law.
In 1969, as a result of concerns raised by the disaster, and in line with the findings of the tribunal report, the government framed new legislation to remedy the absence of laws and regulations governing mine and quarry spoil tips. The introduction of the Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act 1969 states that the Act was designed "to make further provision in relation to tips associated with mines and quarries; to prevent disused tips constituting a danger to members of the public; and for purposes connected with those matters". The Act was an extension of the earlier Mines and Quarries Act 1954, which did not legislate over tips. According to McLean and Johnes, "the general commitment to public safety that the Tribunal had envisaged was not implemented" through the act, as the tribunal had advised wider legislation that should "consider the safety, health and welfare of all persons going about their lawful business in the vicinity of a mine, including the safety of their property".
In May 1970 Barbara Castle, the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, appointed Robens to chair the Committee on Health and Safety at Work, to review legislation in the area and recommend the provisions that should be made for workers and the general public. In 1972 the committee published its findings in the Robens Report which led to the creation of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the formation of the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive.
In addition to news and historical coverage, the Aberfan disaster and its aftermath have been described in books, including histories of what happened, personal memoirs from those involved and collections of poetry, in music, song and on film.[n]
Merthyr Vale Colliery closed in 1989. In 1997 Ron Davies, the Secretary of State for Wales in the incoming Labour government, repaid to the disaster fund the £150,000 that it had been induced to contribute towards the cost of tip removal. No allowance was made for inflation or the interest that would have been earned over the intervening period, which would have been £1.5 million in 1997. The payment was made in part after Iain McLean's examination of the papers released by the government. In February 2007 the Welsh Government announced a donation of £1.5 million to the Aberfan Memorial Charity and £500,000 to the Aberfan Education Charity, which represented an inflation-adjusted amount of the money taken. The money to the memorial charity was used in the upkeep of the memorials to the disaster.
In May 1997 the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh planted a tree at the Aberfan Memorial Garden. In October 2016, the fiftieth anniversary of the disaster, memorial events took place at the garden and at the cemetery; the Prince of Wales represented the Queen, and government ministers were present to pay tribute. At the time of the anniversary Huw Edwards, the BBC News journalist and presenter, described the need to continue learning lessons from Aberfan; he wrote:
What we can do, however – in this week of the 50th anniversary – is try to focus the attention of many in Britain and beyond on the lessons of Aberfan, lessons which are still of profound relevance today. They touch on issues of public accountability, responsibility, competence and transparency.
Notes and references
Aerial photographs of the spoil tips above Aberfan before and after the disaster
Before the slip
After the slip
- ^Only one tip at a time was ever used. They were begun in the following years:
- Tip 1: during the First World War. 85 feet (26 m) high and containing 235,000 cubic yards (180,000 m3) of spoil
- Tip 2: 1918. 90 feet (27 m) high, containing 574,000 cubic yards (439,000 m3) of spoil
- Tip 3: 1925. 130 feet (40 m) high, containing 210,000 cubic yards (160,000 m3) of spoil
- Tip 4: 1933. 147 feet (45 m) high, containing 572,000 cubic yards (437,000 m3) of spoil
- Tip 5: 1945. 171 feet (52 m) high, containing 706,000 cubic yards (540,000 m3) of spoil
- Tip 6: 1956. 56 feet (17 m) feet high, containing 67,000 cubic yards (51,000 m3) cubic yards of spoil
- Tip 7: Easter 1958. 111 feet (34 m) high, containing 297,000 cubic yards (227,000 m3) of spoil
- ^Small sinkings were not uncommon on the tips, normally measuring 3–4 feet (90–120 cm).
- ^The tipping crew saw the landslide start but were unable to raise the alarm because their telephone cable had been stolen. The official inquiry established that the slip happened so fast that a telephone warning would not have saved any lives.
- ^Williams explained to the inquiry that "Being of the nature of a liquid the whole mass then moved very rapidly down the hillside, spreading out sideways into a layer of substantially uniform thickness. As this happened, water was escaping from the mass so that the particles of soil regained their contact and the soil mass returned to its solid nature."
- ^It takes over an hour to shut down mains water supplies, and the valves for the feeder pipes, which needed to be operated manually, were spread out over several branches. Even once they were closed, there were still at least two miles of water-filled pipes that drained into the disaster area.
- ^There were two further deaths attributed to the disaster: a 19-year-old youth (the brother of a boy saved from the school) who collapsed and died from heart trouble while taking part in the rescue, and a 22-year-old soldier who had been assisting with the clear-up who died while hitch-hiking back to his regiment.
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