Thursday, October 20, 2016

Aberfan was foreseeable and foreseen

I do not have clear memories of the day Aberfan happened - I was six at the time - but in my lifetime there has been no British tragedy that comes close to it in enormity.

As Huw Edwards' documentary made clear the other evening, the slide of the tip above Aberfan was foreseeable and foreseen.

That programme owed a lot to the work of Martin Johnes and Iain McLean, who wrote a book, Aberfan: Government and Disasters, on it in 2000.

In a new article for this week's 50th anniversary - The Political Aftermath of the Aberfan Disaster - they write:
The disaster simply would not have happened had the NCB [National Coal Board] taken local fears about the tips more seriously or enforced its own rules on tip safety. But it was an organization hampered by mismanagement yet protected from market and political pressure by being part of the state and a dominant local employer. 
Before the disaster, the NCB’s economic and local political power meant no one, including the small local authority in Merthyr, was able to challenge it to do more about fears on tip safety. After the disaster, the NCB’s economic and national power meant its interests took precedent over those whose children it had killed.
And in a point Edwards passed over, they emphasise that mines were being closed in the 1960s (at a faster rate than they were under Margaret Thatcher).

Lord Robens, the head of the NCB and a Labour Party bigwig, was seen as the only man who could oversee these closures without causing a coal strike. So he stayed on despite his organisation's culpability.

1 comment:

James said...

I'm not sure of the legal ins and outs, but off the top of my head I'm fairly convinced that had a disaster of the same magnitude happened in France or Germany at the time, the director/manager responsible would have been prosecuted and probably jailed. It seems some corporate entities can/could operate with impunity in the Anglo-sphere and nothing more than a bad report, a fine or slap on the wrist results...