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Inquiring Minds

On October 25th 1934 the Inquiry into the Explosion at Gresford Colliery, Denbighshire opened at Church House on Regent Street in Wrexham.

Sir Henry Walker, Chief Inspector of Mines, at Gresford Colliery.

Sir Henry Walker, the Chief Inspector of Mines, led the inquiry and he faced a major problem. The mine was still sealed so there was no direct evidence to present to the inquiry. Sir Henry aimed to find out the condition of the mine prior to the explosion and to explore any evidence about the explosion and its cause. With him were two assessors: the owners' nominee, John Brass, and the union nominee, Joseph Jones. By the end of the inquiry they would all disagree with each other.

They said they wouldn't dream of going to the inquiry because they would be blacklisted in every one of the collieries in the area.

Leta Jones, Relief Fund Volunteer

The importance of what was at stake and the reliance on witness testimony meant all sides sought out the best barristers in the land. The owners employed Hartley Shawcross, later Chief British prosecutor at the Nuremburg Trials. The Miners' union approached Sir Stafford Cripps, barrister and radical left Labour MP, who offered his services free of charge.

The inquiry was hindered not just by the lack of evidence from the mine, but also by rhetorical excess and verbal bullying. For Cripps, the inquiry was an opportunity to prove that private ownership of mines was one of the evils of capitalism. For the owners, the inquiry was an event to be endured and its questions stonewalled.

Crowds awaiting news

The atmosphere was hostile. The miners felt that the owners had invented jobs for all its officials to keep them on the payroll and thereby witnesses on its side. The Miners' union also found it difficult to get miners to give evidence. It was not just a case of not wishing to be cross-examined by the leading legal brains of the time. They also worried for their jobs.

Our solicitors had some considerable difficulty in getting the men to sign as they were apparently all afraid of victimization when the Colliery restarted work if they had given evidence reflecting badly upon the management.

Miners' Union brief to their barristers

Hopes were pinned on getting access to the Dennis section. Sir Henry adjourned the inquiry in December 1934. He hoped to reopen it when the Dennis section had been fully investigated.

The pit was reopened in March 1935 and coal production resumed in January 1936. The Dennis section, however, remained sealed on health and safety grounds. To many, the owners' attitude was an admittance of guilt. Eventually Sir Henry decided his inquiry could wait no longer and he made his final report in December 1936. Like many inquiries since, it raised as many questions as it answered.