A Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) into the death of lawyer Alison Hume, 44, found this week that the exact location of a collapsed East Ayrshire mineshaft where she fell had never been identified. The location of a second shaft known to have served the old colliery remains unknown.
A programme of investigating and stabilising old mine entrances has seen 1222 addresses inspected north of the Border, with around 1300 residents warned about the subterranean structures, which can lead to properties subsiding.
The inspection regime comes as the Coal Authority focuses on old mineshafts in urban and other residential areas.
Sheriff Desmond Leslie, who led the FAI, said the Goat Foot Colliery shaft near Galston that Mrs Hume fell into was not high on the priority list for the Coal Authority given its relatively obscure location, with the focus instead being on mineshafts which are less than 20 metres from residential properties.
A spokesman for the Coal Authority said: “We have a proactive mine entry inspection regime and we look first at those that present the highest risk. At present, the programme is focusing on mine entries in residential areas.”
It is known that some properties have been demolished due to subsidence caused by a sinking mineshaft, but no exact figures were available yesterday as to how many properties have needed emergency works.
“We don’t often find any problems, it’s very, very occasional,” the spokesman added.
The Coal Authority has made a damages payment to some members of the family of Mrs Hume, the mother of two daughters, under the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991.
It emerged at the inquiry that officials had tried more than 20 years ago to find the exact location of the collapsed shaft into which Mrs Hume fell in 2008.
The report said: “It is a legitimate concern of Mrs Hume’s family that the shaft into which she fell was not detected in the course of the earlier survey of the surface terrain of Goat Foot Colliery, which was carried out at some point prior to 1994.”
Sheriff Leslie added: “I cannot be satisfied that the location of the shaft into which Mrs Hume fell would have merited prioritisation in the Coal Authority’s survey of where it lay and its state of stability.
“That process is logical given the scale of the Coal Authority’s obligations and entirely appropriate to the demands placed on it by statute.
“The shaft was … some distance behind the housing estate, adjacent to, but not on the trodden path across the field between the two housing estates. Its level of obscurity diminished its hazardous character.”
The shaft was last mined 60 years ago, with both local people and the current landowner unaware of the hazard.
Mrs Hume fell into the mineshaft while walking home from a friend’s house. Firefighters attended the scene, but their desire to rescue her was halted by senior officers, who followed procedure to call mountain rescue teams.
The rescue crew arrived four hours after the 999 call was made. Mrs Hume spent more than seven hours at the bottom of the shaft and eventually died from a heart attack after being raised to the surface.