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Whose Responsibility?

The public wanted to know who was to blame for the explosion and the resultant 266 deaths.

To many, the management was to blame. They ran the pit and should take full responsibility. Cripps focused his questioning on William Bonsall, the colliery manager. Cripps saw him as not only as incompetent, but also complicit in a regime that put profits before miners' lives. He called Bonsall to account for every shortcoming in the mine.

Gresford Colliery officials behind Bryn-y-ffynnon church on Regent Street, Wrexham. The Inquiry was held next door in Church House.© Wrexham Archives

The experience in many mines today is an atmosphere of driving for output at all costs.

Sir Stafford Cripps

Portrayed as a villain at the time and a dissembler for his masters; some now say Bonsall was a man out of his depth and the fall guy for the owners. The inquiry failed to explore the relationship between Bonsall and the owners. Perhaps Henry Dyke Dennis could have explained why after 1932 the colliery had no mining engineer to advise on the safe running of the mine. Mr Dennis did not even appear before the inquiry.

Responsibility spread down the colliery hierarchy. The colliery officials knew what was wanted: increased production. The firemen all said that safety standards were maintained. Doubt was cast on the firemen as the miners gave witness that basic safety procedures were ignored. Also complaints to the firemen about conditions in the mine were not welcome. Sir Henry Walker saw the firemen as victims of conflicting responsibilities: to maintain safety and to supervise coal production.

If we tested for gas and told the firemen there was gas there, he'd soon give us his answer. He'd tell us that he'd tell us when there was gas there.

Thomas Gibson, collier

Cripps also blamed the Inspectorate for failing the miners of Gresford. He scorned the abilities of Percy Dominy, the local mines inspector, for not properly monitoring conditions in the mine.

Rescue Men from Hafod Colliery, taking a break during the work to reopen at Gresford Colliery, March 1935.

Finally, even the miners were expected to take a share of the blame. Shawcross asked why they had not complained to the Inspectors and why had the miners' union been so inactive if things were so bad. The miners' response was that they had complained about the firedamp and unsafe shotfiring, but to no avail. Many feared for their jobs if they pressed their complaints too much. In a time of high unemployment, no miner could afford to take risks, so instead a culture of grim acceptance took hold.

Do you think that if conditions of danger, of gas or irresponsible management and victimization had existed in Gresford mine, that it would not have become the talk of the village and the talk of the town?

Hartley Shawcross

By the time the inquiry closed, positions were firmly entrenched on where blame lay. Which side would Sir Henry come down on?