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Colliery Fatality Inquest – “Chance in a Thousand” Stone Fall

November 1959

South Yorkshire Times November 7, 1959

Colliery Fatality Inquest

“Chance in a Thousand” Stone Fall at Wath Main

The Sheffield District Coroner (Mr. A. P. Lockwood) described the accident leading to the death of a 56-years-old West Melton miner as a “chance in a thousand” at a resumed Wath inquest yesterday (Thursday).

The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental Death”, on Ellis Birks, of 19, High Street, West Melton, a packer at Wath Main colliery who  suffered fatal injuries in a room fall at the colliery on October 24th.

At the opening of the inquest, Dr. J. D. M. Holt, No. 3 Area Medical Officer, gave the cause of death as a fractured skull and extensive cerebral lacerations.

John Riley, a deputy, of 39, Maple Road, Mexborough, told the Coroner that he had been engaged in shot-firing about 60 yards away from the scene of the accident. He said this could not have caused the fall, but indicated that further shot-firing was taking place shortly prior to the accident 15 yards away. “It might have had some bearing on the roof fall,” he said.

When he was called to the South 2 district of the Melton Field seam several men were in the process of releasing Birks whose head was trapped between a large stone and a steel strap. In answer to the Corner’s question whether dampness could have made the roof treacherous, witness replied, “No sir.” The roof conditions were good ‘ in the surrounding area. Witness said that Birks was in a kneeling position and reaching for a piece of stone when the fall occurred.

Nineteen-year-old trainee, Barry Ashton, of 56, Riley Road, Wath, who was working with Birks, said that he had been receiving instructions in packing and drawing off duties. “I saw a large stone fall and hit him on the back of the head, trapping him with his face towards a steel prop. Witness added that Birks and just reach for the stone and it seemed to fall out of the roof. Birks had previously warned him about putting his head in an exposed position away from the roof support and of the dangers of waste roof stones. Ashton said they were working by the light of two lamps and Birks must have known that his head was away from the protected roof.

Ernest Stevenson, a ripper, of 13 Schofield Road, Darfield, said this was a matter calling for the discretion of a workman, and apparently Birks did not think it necessary to set up roof supports. He was obviously satisfied that the roof was strong enough, although they sometimes belied their appearance. “It was one of those decisions which might have been made either way. I do not think it was a bad decision,” he said. Witness added that Birks was still complying with regulations whether he erected temporary supports or not.

The Coroner said this was one of those grievous fatalities which came from a hazardous occupation. “Here was a man making a pack which necessitated working right to the edge of the waste. He was working very close to a point where the roof ceased to be supported. It was a chance in a thousand that the stone fell at that particular moment,” he said.