Mining boss found guilty over US mine explosion

Former Upper Big Branch coal mine Don Blankenship (File)
Former Upper Big Branch coal mine Don Blankenship (File)

The jury in a United States mine negligence court case strikingly similar to Pike River has reached its verdict against the mine's former boss.

It found Massey Energy chief executive Don Blankenship guilty of conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards over the explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia which killed 29 miners in 2010.

The explosion is the deadliest mining disaster in the US since 1984.

The news comes as a relief to Judy Jones Petersen, whose brother was among the 29 men who died in the disaster.

"The most important thing for me was that he was found guilty. I just wanted to hear the word guilty. From my perspective he was never being trialled for what I felt he was guilty of," she says.

After an intense seven weeks of testimony, and two weeks of jury deliberations States Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez welcomes the guilty verdict.

"Today's verdict sends a clear message that no mine operator is above the law, that there must be accountability when people lose their lives because of the neglect of their employer," he says.

"Workers in this country have the right to go home safe and healthy at the end of every shift, and the jury clearly recognized the violation of that right in this case."

Blankenship has been acquitted on two other counts of making false statements.

He now faces the possibility of a year in jail and a maximum $250,000 fine when he will be sentenced in March.

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