CommonSpace columnist Yvonne Ridley looks at the Aberfan disaster and it’s handling by the British elite through a long history of tragedies, paved over by the establishment
AS THE HEROIC nation of Wales braced itself for the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster on Friday the great and the good from the British establishment paid full tribute from Westminster to Whitehall for the lives lost.
It was, of course, a charade and should serve as a reminder to those who would rather put their trust in Westminster than be governed from Scotland, that the establishment treats us ordinary folk with contempt and will therefore do its upmost to protect the ruling classes, corporate might and its power base in London.
Those who believe they'd be better off being ruled from London probably still believe that what happened in the mining village of Aberfan on October 21 1966 was an accident, an Act of God if you will. However, when a colossal mountain of coal waste swept into the village and swamped the local primary school, killing 116 children and 28 adults this was no natural disaster…it was the result of corporate greed, negligence and incompetence.
Typically, not one person in authority from the ranks of the ruling elite was prepared to stand up and accept responsibility for what happened in Aberfan.
Typically, not one person in authority from the ranks of the ruling elite was prepared to stand up and accept responsibility for what happened in Aberfan. No one was ever held accountable or put through the courts. If there is a lesson to be learned from Aberfan it is this: as long as the rich, arrogant ruling classes can avoid accountability and responsibility for their actions nothing will ever change.
Corporate negligence, state crimes and crimes against humanity will continue to rise just like the profits of industrial barons, arms dealers, ruthless knighted businessmen and despots rise in inverse proportion. We are to blame in many ways for not holding our leaders to account and the mainstream media is complicit by peddling the lies and propaganda of those in power.
The mainstream media pushed out government propaganda about the Iraq war, skewed the truth about Bloody Sunday, wrote out and out lies about Liverpool fans during the Hillsborough Disaster, glossed over the reality and extent of child sex abuse in the UK and will no doubt miss the point of why Aberfan will never be allowed to come to terms with its grief.
Now it looks as though, thanks to collateral damage from Brexit, we in Scotland may have another chance to cut free from all that is rotten in Westminster and we must seize it with both hands for the sake of ourselves and future generations who do not want to be ruled by people who loathe and despise us.
Aberfan is a lesson, but there are many other examples of the working classes being treated in such a disdainful way by the ruling elite and their cronies.
Aberfan is a lesson, but there are many other examples of the working classes being treated in such a disdainful way by the ruling elite and their cronies. In Northern Ireland the Kincora Boys Home was the scene of serious organised child sexual abuse for decades but in the 1980s, despite an inquiry, there was an attempted cover up and credible claims of state collusion including allegations of a paedophile ring with links to the British intelligence services.
Staying with Ireland, almost 3,600 people were killed during the Troubles, with many more injured both physically and psychologically. Victims and their families still deserve answers today but various British governments have no appetite to resurrect the past when Northern Ireland was ruled directly from Whitehall, home to Britain's Ministry of Defence and the army's HQ.
Be in no doubt that minister after minister authorised actions in Ireland from their offices in Westminster which if revealed today would trash the reputations of dozens of establishment figures who were aware of security forces' collusion with loyalist paramilitaries, the targeted assassinations of solicitors Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson; the killing of unarmed civilians. Who remembers the 10 shot in the Ballymurphy massacre by the Parachute Regiment in 1971, which was but a prelude to Derry's Bloody Sunday when the Paras were given a green light to behave as they did?
Just recently the Chilcot Inquiry into the war in Iraq produced multiple volumes of evidence in millions of words which damned establishment figures but, again, not one person has been charged or is likely to stand in any court of law for their actions.
Not only do we mourn the deaths of 116 children and 28 adults on the anniversary, but we must also remember how this disaster was also witness to the betrayal an entire community.
Now Britain’s biggest child abuse inquiry is lurching from one disaster to another as officials close to Prime Minister Theresa May have been accused of covering up racist remarks allegedly made by the latest ex-head of the so-called independent inquiry. It was set up to examine if public bodies and other non-state institutions were involved in covering up sex abuse of children in England and Wales. Names of some of the most senior establishment figures, past and present, have been linked to the inquiry but the victims fear they will never get justice.
When the British establishment is under fire it will do whatever is necessary to protect its own, and has done. Which brings us back to the Aberfan disaster, the single biggest human tragedy in modern Welsh history. Not only do we mourn the deaths of 116 children and 28 adults on the anniversary, but we must also remember how this disaster was also witness to the betrayal an entire community.
The criminal negligence of the National Coal Board (NCB) in failing to remove the slag heap that collapsed, coupled with the callous post-disaster treatment of the coal mining community by political leaders, made the loss of life even more outrageous. As my old friend and colleague Martin Shipton wrote in the Western Mail this week: “Unlike the Hillsborough disaster or miscarriage of justice cases that took years of persistent campaigning before the truth was recognised, the negligent conduct of the NCB was quickly exposed but no one took responsibility, resigned or were charged”.
But, perhaps more shocking, Shipton added: "If the criminal negligence that led to the Aberfan disaster betrayed the whole community, the aftermath compounded the betrayal. Not only did the bereaved have to cope with the knowledge that no-one received the slightest punishment for the 144 deaths, but an appeal fund for the villagers was plundered so what remained of the lethal tip could be removed.”
The criminal negligence of the National Coal Board (NCB) in failing to remove the slag heap that collapsed, coupled with the callous post-disaster treatment of the coal mining community by political leaders, made the loss of life even more outrageous.
Lord Robens, the former Labour Minister who chaired the NCB, remained in post. For public consumption he offered his resignation, but classified papers released decades later showed this was a sham and that he’d been assured his job was safe. Incredibly he was subsequently appointed to chair a committee that made recommendations to the Government about health and safety legislation.
A further cause of shame for the public authorities was the inquest into the 144 deaths. When it was opened a week after the disaster, one bereaved father said: “I want it recorded: ‘Buried alive by the National Coal Board’. That is what I want see on the record. That is the feeling of those present. Those are the words we want to see go on the certificate.” Yet when the inquest resumed after the inquiry report was published with its conclusion that NCB negligence was responsible for the disaster, the coroner had a different view. In a hearing that lasted just four minutes, he returned a blanket verdict of accidental death.
Scottish history is littered with similar examples of how London has treated with contempt those who live north of the English Border and I am sure there are government archives today still holding the secret actions of incompetent and weak Scottish Ministers and despicable decisions taken by other establishment figures that do not serve the interests of the people.
One bereaved Aberfan father said: “I want it recorded: ‘Buried alive by the National Coal Board’. That is what I want see on the record. That is the feeling of those present. Those are the words we want to see go on the certificate.”
That could all change with the issue of Scottish independence returning to the table. At the weekend First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was asked by political journalist Robert Peston if she would anticipate a second referendum before 2020, and she replied: “I think it’s highly likely, given the situation we’re in, I said that actually the morning after the EU referendum and nothing has changed my mind.”
Of course the London-based establishment and its servile lackeys will do everything in their power to stop Scottish voters from following their natural instincts but we should view indyref2 for what it is – a real chance to break from the shackles of Westminster and a chance to be free of a ruling elite that holds all of us mere mortals and the lives of our children in such contempt.
Picture courtesy of Nick
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