Hi YouTube, it’s Joshua Miles and welcome back to my channel Today’s video is gonna be a little bit different from my usual case Because I’m actually gonna be talking about an event that shapes the country of Wales and its people forever. A lot of today’s video is sourced from official reports and the tribunal of this case along with witness accounts, which you can all find in my sources down below. I’d just like to point out this video has and not being made to cause disrespect or anything like that it’s just been made to spread awareness about this case by compiling information from various different public sources on the internet. Any theories discussed in this video are just that, theories, they’re not fact, and they shouldn’t be taken as such and any opinions expressed in this video Do not represent the views of myself, law enforcement or anybody else involved in this case unless otherwise stated. And as I said in my last video the reason why I say that is so that I don’t get sued or anything like that With all that being said, let’s delve right into this case. Friday the 21st of October 1966 started out just as normally as every day that had come before it. It was the last day for the children of
Pantglas Junior School in Aberfan, Wales before they would break up for their half term holidays. And it was one of the first days in three weeks of heavy rainfall to have clear skies. You see, according to some sources Aberfan is used to having heavy downpours of rain with an average of 60 inches a year in the three weeks leading up to that fateful Friday the 21st of October 1966 Aberfan experienced 6.5 inches of downpour with just under half of that 6.5 inches of rain falling in the third week of October. The village of Aberfan itself was rooted in the coal mining industry and it said that if somebody in your family didn’t work in the mine somebody you knew definitely did. Aberfan’s coal mine was the heart of the village but the mismanagement of waste products from the colliery and the ignorance of the boards that oversaw its operation despite warnings from locals would see that same colliery, that provided a lifeline for the residents, become the cause of immense grief and pain for decades to come. On that Friday 21st October 1966 despite the Sun in the sky, a fog hung low in the valley, meaning that the residents of Aberfan couldn’t see the peak of the Merthyr Mountain and the peaks of the coal waste tips on top of that mountain that towered above the village. It was shortly before 7:30am that Friday morning that two men, two workers, called Mr Gwyn Brown, a crane driver, and a Mr David Jones who was a slinger arrived at the top of tip seven. In total, there were seven tips on top of the mountain and as you can see from this photograph that was taken two years prior to this disaster in 1964 they towered very high. At the base of the mountain in this image is the village of Aberfan. When they got to the top of tip 7, which was approximately 111 feet high above the ground of the mountain, they were shocked to see that the top of the tip had actually sunken into the ground by about 10 feet, taking with it two pairs of rail which were part of the track that the cranes used. A depression such as this in the tips that surrounded Aberfan wasn’t particularly uncommon, so to say. It had been known by the locals at the council and the National Coal Board that underneath these tips were actually natural mountain springs and these natural Mountain Springs would often cause sinkholes, such as the one that formed on this fateful Friday, to appear in the tips Although they were quite small, the mining board would later go on to claim that they had no knowledge of the existence of such natural springs as the ones I’m describing, but we’ll come back to that later in this video. Gwyn Browne, who was the crane operator and crane driver immediately knew that something was wrong so he instructed his coworker David Jones to go down and inform their charge-hand. Their charge-hand was called Leslie Davies. And so David Jones ventured down the side of the mountain to report the depression and to do exactly what he was told. There had actually been a telephone system in place on the tip prior to this depression forming which could have been used to quickly inform higher-ups of what had occurred though the telephone wire connecting the phones the lower buildings had reportedly been stolen and so a human messenger was the only way to relay a message. Gwyn and David’s charge-hand Leslie Davis would have usually been up on the mountain with them inspecting the tips however on this Friday, he was actually set to give a weekly report to the unit’s mechanical engineer and so he remained down in the lower buildings of the colliery. As David made his way down the side of the mountain Gwyn decided that he would use his crane to recover the rails that had fallen into the depression and he did so before retreating the crane back as far as it could go. It’s important to know that Gwen had a group of miners with him a, group of co-workers, however, their names aren’t disclosed in the official reports but I think it’s important to give those people credit too, because it was a group effort. Meanwhile, David Jones had gone and spoken to his charge-hand, Leslie Davis, who instructed him to go speak to the unit mechanical engineer who was called Vivian Thomas. Now, I know this is a lot of names, but I’ll try and keep it as simple as possible. Subsequently, Vivian ordered a group of men to go and sever the overhanging rails which were used to transport coal mining waste the tips on the mountain. Vivian also ordered that the crane be pulled back as far away as possible on the mountain from tip seven. Further, Vivian immediately ordered that all operations in dumping waste on tip 7 be seized immediately And that he would go up the mountain the following Monday to find a new spot to form a new tip. At about 9:00 am Leslie Davis, David Jones and a group of other men arrived at the top of tip 7 with the equipment required to carry out Vivian’s instructions. When they got to the top they realised that the depression had sunk a further 10 feet Which meant that in total the depression was 20 feet deep. Leslie told Gwynn Brown, the crane driver, of Vivian’s instructions to move the crane as far back as possible but proposed before they did they all went and had a cup of tea at a cabin nearby. That was because they knew they had a really long day ahead of them and it was gonna be a lot of hard work and they had also just climbed up the mountain so they just wanted a quick break. This would be a move that would save the lives of all the men on the mountain that day. Gwyn, though decided that he would stay and monitor the depression just in case there were any changes. Gwynn could peer down the mountain to see the fog hanging low in the valley over the village of Aberfan and for a brief moment all he heard was the sound of the birds flying peacefully in the sky. Little did Gwyn know the horrors that were about to occur. As he glanced into the sinkhole he noticed the bottom of the sinkhole beginning to slowly rise. It was so slow, in fact, that Gwynn would later go on to say that it almost seemed like a trick of the eyes. He wasn’t quite sure whether he was seeing it right. However it soon rose up at a tremendous speed forcing Gwynn to take a couple of steps back away from the depression. The liquefied slurry from within the depression then breached the walls of the sinkhole before sending 110,000 meters cubed of coal mining waste down the side of the mountain towards the village of Aberfan. Gwyn watched as the avalanche of slurry disappeared into the fog below. Lessons at Pantglas Junior School began at 9:00 am for the 240 students between the ages of 7 and 11 and the five teachers that attended. That school day was said to be a short one as it was the final day of thee half term before the students would go on half term holidays and so the day was only about a half-day with the school being out at midday. The students took their seats and the teachers began to take attendance completely unaware of the horrors that were taking place in the mountains that towered above them. Just before 9:15 am a student from the adjacent senior school to Pantglas Junior School, called Howard Reese, was making his way to school as the senior school didn’t start until 9:30 am, when he heard what sounded like a low-flying jet. He turned to see a dark, glistening wave rolling down the side of the mountain headed directly for the junior school. The wave was much taller than a house and it wasn’t long before it crashed through the old railway station embankments headed straight for Howard. Howard would later describe in the tribunal that the wave seemed to consist of boulders, trains, rocks, trees, slurry and water. He watched frozen in place as the wave crashed into the Junior School and the houses that surrounded it. He witnessed the wave engulf his classmates who had been sat on a wall outside one of these houses who sadly were crushed and subsequently killed. Howard then turned and ran for his life Simultaneously to this a local hairdresser called George Williams was walking to his hairdressing shop when he heard what sounded like a low-flying jet coming from the mountain. He turned to look but due to the fog, he couldn’t quite make out what was making the noise. Suddenly, out of the fog came a wave of slurry headed directly for him. George managed to hide himself and protect himself using a piece of corrugated metal which shielded him from the rocks which were hurtling towards him. Meanwhile, the acting headmaster of the senior school, Kenneth Davis, was preparing for the day ahead when he also heard what sounded like a jet plane He presumed it was just a jet flying low over the village, perhaps it was an RAF drill? After all the RAF routinely practices drills in Wales. However, just moments later Kenneth heard what sounded like a really, really loud crash followed by the entire school shaking vigorously. Some pupils who had arrived early to school ran into the hall where Kenneth was, screaming, Kenneth decided to go and have a look at what happened and investigate, initially presuming that there had been some kind of air crash but as he walked down the corridor he noticed that the roof had collapsed in part of the school and the entrance of the school was completely filled with rubble. Kenneth then scaled the rubble to be confronted with a scene of horror The junior school, several houses and Moy Road were completely submerged in coal waste. It’s important to note that even when the wave came to a halt, water still flooded down from the mountain and water was coming and flooding from two water pipes that had been burst by the slurry. The supply to those two water pipes wasn’t turned off until 11:30 am and a report would later detail that the water that came from those pipes didn’t really have a significant impact on what was going on. Kenneth evacuated all the kids from his school with some of the teachers physically carrying students to safety. Meanwhile, Leslie Davis and his co-workers, who were on top of the mountain, ran for their lives down the mountain and miraculously made it to safety and survived. This is where the video gets really heavy. A dinner lady inside the junior school named Nancy Williams shielded five students with her body. Those five students miraculously survived. However, Nancy sadly didn’t. She sacrificed herself for the protection of these five students. A teacher named David Beynon was found cradling five of his students using a blackboard as protection. Unfortunately, David, the five pupils that he was cradling and all the pupils in his class sadly passed away that day. Local residents in Aberfan desperately ran to the junior school and used absolutely anything to try and dig. Some people used tools from home, gardening tools, while others just clawed with their bare hands. Anything to try and rescue their children. At 9:25 am the police station in a neighbouring town received a phone call informing them of the massive landslide and informing them that the majority of the junior school was buried beneath it. Simultaneously to this, the fire brigade also received a phone call. Miners from the Aberfan colliery, many of whom had children at the junior school, arrived at the school at about 9:35 am to begin digging and they dug in an organised group with supervisors, they didn’t want to risk further building collapse and they didn’t want to risk a further landslide or anything like that, so they used that expertise to try and conduct a safe rescue. I just can’t fathom and imagine being a parent and trying to dig through stone rubble knowing that your child is under there. I just can’t even begin to imagine how that must feel. Slowly, but surely, the locals began to pull children from the rubble. 22 children were pulled from the rubble and sent to a nearby hospital. Though sadly one of those children passed away before they arrived at the hospital. Five adults were also rescued and sent to that same hospital. A further nine people were rescued and sent to a different hospital but I couldn’t quite figure out how many of those nine people were children and how many were adults but fortunately a further nine were rescued. The last child to be rescued from the rubble alive was eight-year-old Jeff Edwards and he was rescued at just before 11 am, after which, no more children were rescued alive. The accounts of the surviving adults and children are far too harrowing and far too heart-wrenching to be included in this video but what they went through under that rubble, you can’t begin to imagine. What they experienced is Hell on earth It took rescue workers one week to recover all the bodies from within the rubble. In total 116 children and 28 adults died in the Aberfan disaster. Those 116 children were all aged between 7 and 11 years old. 109 out of the 240 students at the Junior School passed away that day but who was responsible for this disaster? Was anybody responsible or was it just some kind of natural disaster? And most importantly, could this have been prevented? Surprisingly, this hadn’t been the first time that a tip on the mountain had collapsed. According to the tribunal reports in 1944 there was a landslide on tip 4 on the 27th October 1944 a large portion of tip 4 slid down the mountainside for a considerable distance. With estimates predicting that some of it traveled as far as 1800 feet, This event happened some 20 years prior to the Aberfan disaster and a report of tip 4 actually came out in January of 1944 so way before the landslide and this report said that the tip had been situated between two streams that went down the mountainside. Though those two streams didn’t present an immediate threat. If there were to be heavy downpour of rain then it could cause the tip to fail and move. The report even details that there had been some minor movement in the tip prior to January 1944. Fortunately, nobody was injured or hurt in the 1944 land slip of tip 4. And it seemed as if the governing bodies of the colliery just straight-up ignored the fact that the tip had collapsed and failed like that. The underlying result of this landslide was actually detrimental to the water streams of the mountain. It deeply affected the natural water drainage of the mountain as the landslide had pushed a whole heap of rubble and coal mining waste into a natural stream, completely blocking it up. And it would seem obvious to you and me that this new covered land that the the landslide had formed over this stream is not a good place to build another tip. It’s not stable. There is the water movement underneath. It’s not a good place to build. This was all because it was covering this natural water course. But as you have probably guessed that was where the colliery committee decided to build tip 7, a fatal mistake, that would wipe out an entire generation of people in the village of Aberfan. They discontinued use of tip 4, effective immediately, after the 1944 landslide and instead built a tip behind it, called tip 5, which became the sole working tip for the mine. However in 1956 the colliery ceased dumping waste on tip 5 due to a major bulge that had formed on the South face of the tip. Inspections deemed that it seems likely that tip 5 would fail in the same manner as tip 4 if they continued to use it and so they ceased using it and found a location for tip 6. Though, it’s important to note that no precautions were put in place and no safety measures were put in place to prevent any further failure of tip 5. They just, kind of, saw the bulge, saw what was going on and was like “Okay, let’s just forget about it. If we ignore it, it might go away” Plot Twist. Spoiler. It’s not gonna go away. A plan was actually drafted to move the rails and an electric crane to go higher up the mountain behind tip 5, out of the way of any water course, and a drainage system and this plan detailed a total cost of £7185 12 shillings and nine pence, but for reasons unknown this plan wasn’t put into action. It wasn’t funded. It wasn’t approved. It was just kind of, the plan was made and then that was it, nothing else came of it. Subsequent tip six and tip seven were built below tip four and five. Now, interestingly, a site inspection was never conducted when they chose the location for tip 7. Such an investigation would have immediately indicated that the site was not a suitable location for tip 7. In fact, there was actually an incident previous to the Aberfan disaster in which there had been a landslide on tip 7. In November 1963 a worker noticed that it looked as if the top of tip 7 had been dug out with a huge shovel. They also noted that it seems like the base of the tip had moved forward about 80 to 90 yards. This was reported to higher-ups, but nothing was done to prevent any further failure of the tip. Nothing was put in place, just like with tip 5. They were just kind-of like “Well, that’s that! That’s happened!” but unlike with tip five they continued using tip 7. After the Aberfan disaster the locals blames the National Coal Board in its entirety and rightfully so. They had actually written letters to the coal board months and years prior to the Aberfan disaster taking place. According to some sources, the locals that had been very vocal about these tips to the National Coal Board had actually been threatened with becoming unemployed or losing their jobs at the mine. On 25th October 1966 a tribunal was appointed to investigate the Aberfan disaster. The tribunal published it’s reports on 3rd August 1967, the following year. The report made it clear that the National Coal Board is responsible for the disaster. The National Coal Board contested this by claiming that it had no knowledge of the existence of natural water springs underneath the tips, which they blamed for the disaster. That’s despite the fact that they did actually know about it. Evidence came to light that the mountain had been fully documented with all its natural springs in the late 1800s, meaning that before the mine was even opened there was evidence of the springs being there. There was complete evidence of the waterways and if the people responsible for the tips had paid attention to that and had conducted investigations properly and had conducted surveys properly they would know that that all they had to do was look at a map and they didn’t do that. Or maybe they did and they chose to ignore it. The tribunal report goes on to say that the disaster shouldn’t have and wouldn’t have happened if the National Coal Board or the people who had built the tips in the first place had conducted proper site investigations. It’s important to notes that coal mines in the UK weren’t nationalised until 1946 so they weren’t under the control of the National Coal Board until then so prior to that the companies, the private companies, that built the tips and the private companies that build the mine were responsible for anything that happened then but tip 7 was built after the mine was nationalised meaning that the National Coal Board is responsible for tip 7’s construction. The failure to have any site investigation before the construction of tip 7 was put down to a failure to provide proper instruction from the National Coal Board. AKA It is entirely the National Coal board’s responsibility for that site investigation to have taken place. Yet, the investigation didn’t take place the tribunal went on further to investigate individuals who are part of the National Coal Board to determine whether anybody else particularly, individually, was to blame for the death of 116 children and 28 adults. They first investigated Vivian Thomas, who we mentioned earlier, who was the unit’s mechanical engineer. It was determined that Vivian wasn’t responsible for the selection of the site of tip 7, but it was questioned why Vivian hadn’t seen early warning signs, prior, and why he hadn’t seen any of the red flags. Because something like this catastrophic failure of tip seven wouldn’t have been an overnight event, there would have been signs leading up to it. And the tribunal wanted to find out why Viviane hadn’t seen these signs. It became clear that Vivian had only visited the complex of tips four times in that previous year, all at random intervals. He also had never once inspected the base of the tips. He had only ever inspected at the top of the tips. He relied on weekly reports from his workers, such as Leslie Davies, to keep a track on how the tips were going. Now, Vivian had expressed deep worry and dissatisfaction with the landslide in 1963 of tip 7. Now, this is where it gets interesting. Leslie Davies had actually reported to Vivian Thomas, multiple times, the appearance of sinkholes. There are about 10 to 12 deep on tip 7 and these sinkholes had appeared on multiple occasions in the months leading up to the Aberfan disaster. Due to this, the tribunal concluded that Vivien Thomas couldn’t be completely absolved from a measure of blame for the disaster. A further eight employees of the National Coal Board were also investigated by the tribunal and found to be at least, a part, responsible for the disaster. As a result of this tribunal report several recommendations were actually made. New policy and reform has to be put in place to protect against any future tips failing in the same way as tip 7. The formation of a National Tip Safety Committee was also proposed to the government. In 1969 the government extended the earlier Mines and Quarries Act of 1954 to include legislation over tips to prevent further failure from occurring. Now, it’s important to note that nobody from the National Coal Board was prosecuted at all. No members of staff of the National Coal Board were fired, demoted, were punished in any way. No criminal charges were filed against anyone. The chairman of the National Coal Board at the time was a man called Alfred Robens and on the day of the Aberfan disaster instead of going to Aberfan to assess and direct rescue efforts and be the leader of his team, he went to the University of Surrey to be installed as the first Chancellor. The National Coal Board actually covered him up by telling the public that he was directing rescue efforts even though he didn’t arrive in Aberfan until late to Saturday evening. In August of 1967 Alfred Robens offered to resign from his position and that resignation offer was actually rejected by the Minister of Power. It would later come out that Alfred Robens only offered his resignation because he knew beforehand that he would get rejected and that he would keep his job. He had been assured by the Minister of Power at that point, which to me is extremely, extremely shady. The National Coal Board initially offered a measly sum of £50 to each bereaved family as compensation, which obviously caused an immediate outcry from the public. This sum was soon upped to £500. Some families believed that this compensation wasn’t enough for the pain and grief that they had suffered when they had warned the National Coal Board numerous times that there was danger but the National Coal Board hit back and said that these people were just – – they said this to grieving families – That these people were just trying to capitalise on the situation. A disaster fund was immediately set up after the Aberfan disaster which received just shy of 88,000 donations in total, worldwide. This total sum was £1.75 million at the time, which I believe is about $25 million in today’s money, but I could be wrong with that. Now, interestingly the trust that looked after this fund was initially reluctant to pay out to families for compensation to help with bereavement and that kind of thing. According to the disaster’s Wikipedia page: “Members of the trust told the commission that £5000 was be paid to each family; the commission agrees that the amount was permissible, but stated that each case should be examined before payments ‘to ascertain whether the parents had been close to their children and were thus likely to be suffering mentally’ ” which reads to me that you would have to be mentally not in a good place and suffering a lot of mental illness issues and depression to be able to receive a payout from the disaster fund. You’re telling me those people who are able to process successfully from the outside, those people that might not look like they’re suffering, but obviously dealing with grief… everyone deals with grief in different ways… You’re telling me that those people that may not look like they’re dealing with bereavement badly aren’t entitled to compensation even though they have lost their members of family, their children? This entire case makes me so angry. The residents of Aberfan, following the disaster, insisted that the remaining tips, tips 1 to 7, be removed by the National Coal Board. The National Coal Board quoted to the government that it would cost £3 million to remove all seven of the tips. The National Coal Board unsurprisingly at this point downright refused to pay for the removal of the tips despite the fact that it was an obvious safety issue. Subsequently £150,000 was taken from the disaster fund, with a contribution of £350,000 from the National Coal Board and the rest of however much is going to cost made up by the government which meant that the money that was supposed to be going towards these bereaving families and helping rebuild the community was being used to remove a safety hazard which should be removed and paid for in its entirety by the government, the council or by the National Coal Board. This meant that the donations meant for the families and community was used for that. That makes me angry too. In all, it only costs £850,000 to remove all sevens tips which meant that the National Coal Board also had tried to literally scam the government out of a couple million, which is very weird to me, but we’re not gonna delve into that. Fortunately, in 1989 the government paid £150,000 back into the disaster fund as they believed that the disaster fund shouldn’t have paid for the removal of the tips at all, which I agree with. I think that’s fine. However, they didn’t account for inflation. That £150,000 of the disaster fund would actually be worth £1.5 million in 1997 and that’s according to the disaster’s Wikipedia. Now, this disaster has actually recently been covered in Netflix’s series ‘The Crown’ which follows the royal family and that episode is episode 3, I believe I’ve seen it twice now that episode does cover The Royal Family’s view on it and it covers more of the government side of what happened. So, I do recommend watching that. No, this isn’t sponsored. This isn’t a brand deal or anything like that. I do really enjoy the crown as a series. I think the episode is done really tastefully. The coverage in the series does have a degree of creative license and it does show a dramatised account of what happened in Aberfan that day but I do advise you do go watch that If you want to know more. It brought me to tears the first time I watched it. The Queen took a total of 8 days to visit Aberfan following the disaster and it is rumoured that that is her biggest regret to this day, not visiting Aberfan sooner. The coal mine itself closed down in 1989 and the mines have been lost to history. A memorial garden was built using some of the disaster fund money on the site of the Junior School and was opened by the Queen in part on a visit to Aberfan in 1974 A mass funeral was also held for those who perished in the disaster with the majority of the victims being buried in a large cross formation. The funeral itself was attended by hundreds of grieving families and locals and even Prince Philip. Ultimately, nobody was prosecuted for the death of an entire generation of Aberfan children. The grief and anger that the residents experience is still very present to this day. The Aberfan disaster is a disaster that shapes the entire country of Wales and even the mining industry. Today, mining as an industry has died out but they will be forever a marker of one of the biggest mining disasters in Welsh history in Aberfan, and that’s everything that I have for you in today’s case. I hope you found today’s video interesting I know it’s a bit different from my usual true-crime case, but I thought it’s still really important to talk about. Thank you so much for watching this episode my Curious Case series If you want to see more cases just like this one then don’t forget to hit that subscribe button and hit that bell icon so you can be notified every single time that I post. Make sure you’re following me over on Instagram and Twitter and with all that being said I’ll see you in the next case.