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Iron and Coal Trades Review, 24th August 1870

Mr. Summers, chief agent for the Dark Lane Collieries, was summoned by Mr. Wynne, Government inspector of mines for the district, for not having provided adequate ventilation to disperse noxious gas, in consequence whereof an explosion had taken place on the 22nd June. Mr. Bartlett, solicitor, of Wolverhampton, appeared for the defence. Mr. Wynne said that, by the explosion mentioned, one person had been killed and another severely injured. The managers of the colliery were aware that on the day previous to the explosion there was gas in the pit, and they took but temporary, and, as it proved, inefficient means to remove it. By the Act of Parliament the owner or principal agent of a colliery was liable to a penalty if proper ventilation was not provided to dilute and render harmless the noxious gas which accumulates in the pits.—Enoch Owen said he was a workman at the Dark Lane Colliery. He was in the pit on the evening before the explosion, and there was so much gas in it that he was compelled to leave. He reported this to a man named Price. On the 22nd June he went down again, and after some time there was an explosion which killed his brother and injured Price.— Richard Stanley said he was at work in the pit on the day preceding the 22nd of June. The men declared it unsafe, and made representation to that effect. The candles were taken away and lamps provided. If gas was in the pit it would rise to the top. The explosion was a severe one.

By Mr. Bartlett: Witness was working in the same place on both days, but did not perceive any gas. In consequence of the representations made as to the unsafe state of the pit, the night men who should have gone down were not allowed to do so. On the next morning air pipes were laid down. Witness saw John Owen (the deceased) working with a candle before the explosion. Price had been sent for to another part of the pit, and as it was his duty to clear away the dirt which Owen threw off, the latter went for him, the dirt having accumulated so as to impede work. When the two men had returned, an explosion took place. Witness was of opinion that while Owen was working, the gas could not accumulate, but that it might accumulate during the absence of a few minutes. The pipes ought to have dispersed the gas if they had been kept clear.

It was witness’s opinion that deceased might have thrown the dirt on the pipes so as to cover them up. If the mouth of the pipes had not been covered, he did not think an accident could have occurred. He saw the pipes on the day after the explosion; they were embedded in dirt.

By Mr. Wynne The dirt ought not to have been there. It was Price’s business to remove the dirt away. So long as the men worked in the hole it could not well be filled with gas, but in their absence gas would accumulate. Mr. Bartlett said he believed he could dispose of the case by showing that the managers of the colliery had taken every precaution to prevent the accident. The last witness had told them that so soon as there was any apprehension of danger the precaution was taken of not allowing the night-men to go down the pit. On the following morning ventilation was secured which proved effective from eight o’clock till some hours afterwards, when the explosion took place. The deceased was working with a naked candle for some time, and had there been gas about, it would have made its presence known. The accident could not be accounted for in a better way than had been done by the last witness, that the dirt had been unknowingly thrown in the mouth of the pipe and stopped the passage of air. This would not have occurred had Price been present, but he had been called to another part of the pit where he was told there was an accumulation of gas. The matter had been thoroughly sifted at the coroner’s inquest, when, had there been culpable neglect on the part of the chief agent of the company, a verdict of manslaughter would certainly have been returned by the jury. He contended, therefore, that the managers of the colliery had taken every precaution which lay in their power, and that the defendant had not infringed the first general rule of the Act of Parliament under which he was summoned.

James Darrell, under-agent, said that on the 21st June he surveyed the place where the explosion occurred on the following day, and he was of opinion that the precautions thereupon taken were such as were calculated to ensure safety.—After a few minutes consultation the Bench decided that due care had not been taken to avoid the accident, and they inflicted a penalty of £5, and £1 7s. 10d. costs.

Submitted by Steve Dewhirst

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