UK Coal Families Told To Expect Low Death Fines

22 Oct 2011

A judge has indicated he will not impose heavy fines on UK Coal after four miners died following criminal safety breaches at what is the UK’s biggest mining firm. Justice Alistair MacDuff adjourned sentencing of UK Coal, which 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 in separate incidents at Daw Mill Colliery, near Coventry, in 2006 and 2007. Mr Milner died following an incident at the now-closed Welbeck Colliery in Nottinghamshire in 2007.

Sheffield Crown Court heard how the firm was ‘under intense economic pressure’ following the recession. UK Coal’s solicitor Mark Turner told the court that shares worth £5 five years ago recently traded for 34p. He said it was in a ‘very poor way financially’ and was implementing a survival plan. The Doncaster-based company reported losses of £124.6m in 2010, following losses of £129.1m in 2009 and £15.6m in 2008. The judge told Sheffield Crown Court he had a very difficult exercise to perform to provide justice for the men’s families yet not threaten a company which ‘provided energy to the nation, employment within the nation and a valuable service all round.’ The judge said it would be in ‘nobody’s interest’ to impose devastating financial penalties.

The fines would be announced in late November or early December, he said, warning family members watching from the public gallery that the fines might be lower than some might expect. The judge said he would first establish a total figure UK Coal should be liable for and then deduct the costs before determining the level of fines. The legal costs are estimated to be £1.2m, not including the bill for the adjourned 20 October court hearing, UK Coal’s Mark Turner said. On 27 September this year, Gerry Gibson became UK Coal’s latest casualty, when the 49-year-old died in a roof collapse at Kellingley Colliery.