Another anniversary for Aberfan – but alongside the sadness comes a raw truth – nobody said sorry

Written by Lisa Baker

Another year, another anniversary, another memorial day for the children of Aberfan and the adults who died alongside them.

Just 31 miles from my office, this day in 1966, an unstable colliery spoil tip came tumbling down a mountain, engulfing Pantglas Junior School and nearby houses.  The NCB’s own procedures, which prohibited spoil tips being placed on ground with water springs, had been ignored.  This was actually one of seven tips on the hill, heavy rain was the final catalyst and 116 children and 28 adults became the casualties.

The disaster was one of the UK’s biggest tragedies, on a scale that’s hard to comprehend.  What is harder still to stomach is that this disaster was no surprise, it was obvious, it was predicted and nobody did anything to prevent it from happening – but even more shocking, the manslaughter trial or massive corporate fines we’d expect these days just didn’t follow.  There was an enquiry which squarely laid the blame on the NCB but neither the NCB nor any of its employees were prosecuted and the organisation was not fined.  To this day, nobody has received a single sanction for Aberfan.

After the disaster, the pain continued as local residents had to fight for the remaining tips to be removed, with the NCB and UK Government arguing about the cost of removal.  Life, it seems, truly does have a price.  To add insult to injury, £150,000 was forcibly taken from the Aberfan Disaster Memorial Fund to contribute towards removing the remaining tips.  It beggars belief.

Later generations sought to make amends and Tony Blair’s Government repaid the £150,000 but without interest.  In 2007, the Welsh Government donated £1.5 million to the fund and £500,000 to the Aberfan Education Charity in recognition that the money was wrongly taken.  However, it wasn’t just the money, all villagers wanted was someone to be held accountable for the disaster and someone from the UK Government to officially say sorry that the money was taken in the first place.   Wales cannot do that and Westminster haven’t chosen to do so.

Survivors and first responders (who included young volunteers and cadets from across South Wales) carry the horror of Aberfan in their memories, although years later, some have now taken the loss to the grave.  My friend’s Father, one of the first responders, regularly shed tears until his own death.  It touches new generations too, each anniversary, I write about it and shed tears, I’m far from the only one.

I want to think it couldn’t happen again.  However, I sadly feel humanity is still lacking in politics and that voices are not heard in the corridors of power. I don’t believe that lessons have been learned at all.

Yesterday’s reluctance on the part of the UK Government to bring in ‘Plan B’ restrictions despite overwhelming calls from the NHS and scientists tells me that successive UK Governments still prize profit over people – we even have an ex-banker in charge of health.

If we aren’t taking care of people, what is the point of making profit, or having a strong economy?

I was not even born when Aberfan happened but I want to personally apologise to the residents of Aberfan that the whole of Britain was not yelling at the top of their voice to get justice for them.  It’s not the Westminster apology you deserve but I hope it counts for something.

Because without an apology and a recognition that an injustice was done, my tears and another news article every year count for nothing.

Even though it’s 55 years too late, I am truly, truly sorry.

 


This article is written in a personal capacity.

Image Credits:

Bryntaf Cemetary, Aberfan by Llywelyn2000 at Welsh Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52407518