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Trial oflate mine manager r '■ (By .TaUemnl.—Press Association.) Hamilton, March 8. . The trial of James Flotcher, late manager of Ralph's Colliery, Huntly, on a charge of manslaughter at the recent pit,disaster, was commenced to-day before Mr* Justice Cooper and a special jury of twelve. The charge read: That on or about 'September 12, 1914, he did omit, without lawful excuse, to observe a legal duty in regard to the'safety of the lives of the miners employed in Ralph's. Colliery, and in consequence of such 1 omission he did cause the death of iWilliam Burton > and thereby commit .manslaughter.. Mr. Ostler. is. appearing for the Crown, and Mr. C. P. Skerrett. K.C., .with him Mr. Tunis,.for the defence. There are about twenty witnesses in the case, which is expected to last a .week. •

The grounds of negligence alleged tare: That it was accused's practice to allow miners to go into the workings with naked lights l to remove/rails, in spite of the fact that he knew gas. wgß toeing .constantly found there by the deputy-inspectors; (2)- that knowing the presence of ■ gas in... the mine ■ and of ignitions and explosions that had taken place, and that the mine was a dusty one and that coal dust is highly explosive, ho did i.ot order safety lamps to be used in the mine; (3) that contrary to special rules he did not keep the door leading to the 'old., workings locked'; (4) that he did not carry out the watering of the mine as instructed by the Government inspector; (5) that he did not cause a" daily inspection of all parts of the mine to be made as required by the special rules, nor did he cause an; adequate inspection of the old workings to be made. Mr. Ostler, in opening for the Crown, reviewed the circumstances leading up ;to the "disaster, the address occupying two hours. The facts relative to the date - and occurrence of the disaster .were admitted.

Mr. Lloyd Bennie, Government Inspector of Mines, itated that it was. the'practice of deputies to inspect old .workings weekly, : and- 'report daily should gas be discovered in the old workings. Witness wrote to accused on May 30 drawing his attention to the coal-dust in Ralph 1 6 mine, and asked that remedial measures be taken to combat, the danger by spraying. Accused replied there . was not a. complaint. On July 11 witness wrote regarding the presence of gas in the coaldust, and impressed on him the necessity, of coping with the danger. Aocused replied that the matters were receiving attention: On August 25 witness pointed out that if any further ignitions of fire-damp occurred it would be - necessary; to insist on the use of safety-lamps'. In reply to Mr. Skerrett, witness, said (the mine had been worked twenty-five years with naked.lights -up till 1914. It had been regarded by all experts as ' safe. TJnder the naked-light , system there had'been no complaints by .the men or. their inspector. At times the men complained about the dust oil. the travelling Toads, but this had no rela- , tion to the inflammability of coal dust. Witness had inspected, the-mine for a period of nine years prior to the explo- ' sion. • The character of the coal from this mine was hard lignite. The blasting which it was obtained (.were often overcharged, and coal was' thrown back on the roads; . The mine was more dusty than others in his district. It was a fact.that prior to the explosion experts in New Zealand, so far as he knew, did' not know of the extreme inflammability of the dust-of this mine.- . Although ;- witness, , had ma'de sis-examination's' from Januaryto the time of the disaster, in none of the working parts did he find any accumulations of gas. But they were always fouud in old workings. The general rule was that accumulations of gas were not found, in old workings -unless thate had been-a fall from the roof. His conclusion was that the condition of the mine generally was satisfactory from a gas point of view. He had no knowledge of any mine in New Zealand treating coal dust by water spraying, - or the methods in use prior to the explosion. He was aware of the use of water on inert dust in mines, but not .in Australasia. Generally, the quantity of air in' Ralph's mine was from 290 to 300 cubic feet per man, whereas the minimum allowed by law is- 150 cubit; feet. During the course of examination of the old workings there were one or two placeß where ladders should have been , used, and the si'< ne of the disaster was one of them. The object of the regulation to keep doors locked where they were only occasionally used was to prevent miners from straying into dangerous, places. He ,was sure the door in question had been erected between his latest visit in August and the time of the disaster. It Was possible that the explosion of gas had occurred from a fall in No. 6 bore, between knock-off time on Friday and 7 a.m. on Saturday. He was of opinion that if there had been a blower of gas freed by falling debris it would have been- there in sufficient force, between 5.30 p.m. and 7 a.m. to cause the explosion. • • .

Under're-examination by Mr. Ostler, witness said on a visit to the mine after giving instructions he found it had not been watered adequately or • regularly. • Frank Reed, inspecting engineer of mines, said he .visited the mine five times after the explosion, and measured 350,000 ft. of explosive gas mixture. It was well known that coal dust had been the cause of many colliery disasters. Half an ounce of dust in a cubic foot was sufficient to cause an explosion. He thought two deputies could adequately inspect the old workings.

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Bibliographic details

THE HUNTLY DISASTER, Dominion, Volume 8, Issue 2404, 9 March 1915

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THE HUNTLY DISASTER Dominion, Volume 8, Issue 2404, 9 March 1915

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