The former director of the Halemba mine, where 23 miners were killed in 2006, was sentenced to two years in prison. Appellate verdicts were also heard by the former head of ventilation and the former chief engineer of the plant.
On Thursday, the Court of Appeal in Katowice sentenced the former director of the mine Halemba Kazimierz D. and former head of the ventilation department, Marek Z., to two years in prison in a trial concerning a disaster which killed 23 miners in 2006.
Former mine chief engineer Jan J., who was also the deputy manager of the plant’s operations, was sentenced to one year imprisonment suspended for four years.
The disaster in Halemba was one of the most tragic accidents in contemporary Polish mining. It happened during the removal of a mining longwall 1,030 meters underground. The miners who died as a result of the methane and coal dust explosion were to extract equipment worth millions of zlotys. Most of the victims are employees of an external company that carried out the decommissioning work on behalf of the mine.
The court found Z. guilty of the crime under Art. 165 par. 1 point 5 of the Penal Code, which provides for a penalty of up to 8 years for bringing danger to the life or health of many people or for property in large sizes as a result of operating in particularly dangerous circumstances. He sentenced him to two years in prison. This is a harsher punishment than previously imposed by the district court, which sentenced him to a year and two months in prison.
The court also sentenced the former director for such an offense. Unlike the court of first instance, he did not suspend the execution of the sentence – he was also sentenced to two years of absolute imprisonment.
Sentences of September 2019
In September 2019, after another trial, the District Court in Gliwice sentenced Z. to a total penalty of one year and two months in prison, including the arrest period from September 2007 to July 2008. He was also forbidden from holding managerial positions in the mining industry for three years.
The court found Z. guilty of the crime under Art. 165 par. 1 of the Penal Code, which provides for a penalty of up to 8 years for bringing danger to the life or health of many people or for property in large sizes as a result of operating in particularly dangerous circumstances. For this, he was sentenced to a single one year imprisonment.
The court also sentenced Z. to a year in prison under Art. 220 of the Penal Code, which provides for a penalty of up to three years in prison for a person responsible for health and safety at work, and who fails to comply with the resulting obligation, and thus exposes the employee to the immediate risk of loss of life or serious damage to health.
Former director Kazimierz D. Gliwice district court sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for five years, among others for an offense under Art. 165 par. 3 of the Penal Code – bringing danger to the life or health of many people or to property in large sizes, which resulted in the death of a person. Kazimierz D. was also ordered to pay a fine of PLN 20,000, but the key part of it included a period of pre-trial detention from April to July 2008.
Former chief mine engineer Jan J., who was also the deputy manager of the plant’s operations, was sentenced under Art. 220 of the Penal Code for a year of imprisonment, suspended for four years, and a fine.
Prosecutor’s Office: this death could have been avoided
Both the defense and the prosecutor’s office appealed against the judgment of the district court, which demanded much more severe penalties for Z. and D. At the appeal hearing at the end of March, the prosecutor Wiesław Kużdżał argued that the defendants sent miners to work knowing that they were in danger, and the workers themselves said that they were working on a ticking bomb – the permissible methane concentrations were often exceeded in the mine, and the risk increased as the work progressed. – This death could have been avoided – taking into account the appearing analyzes and reports – said the prosecutor.
According to the defense attorney Z. and D. Krystian Ślązak, there is no evidence that it was Z. who was obliged to suspend the works before the explosion. – This was the duty of every miner and supervisor working there. Z. did not have sufficient data to make a decision in suspending or terminating the liquidation works – said the attorney. He also argued that the mine director could not decide about the withdrawal of the crew, because he found out about the exceedance of the permissible methane concentrations after the fact. Attorney Ślązak argued that there were no regulations ordering the neutralization of coal dust with rock dust in the excavated excavation, therefore such an objection cannot be made.
The accused Marek Z. in “the last word” compared the situation in the mine to the current coronavirus pandemic. – In both situations we ask ourselves if more could have been done to avoid so many victims. Perhaps it was possible, but at that time the work was carried out in accordance with the regulations – he said.
Defense: a random event, independent of people
The findings of the investigation, closed by the District Prosecutor’s Office in Gliwice in 2008, show that the outbreak occurred as a result of failure to take preventive measures against natural hazards. After the ignition and explosion of methane, coal dust exploded in the excavation, wreaking havoc and killing most of the victims. According to the prosecutor’s office, employees in Halemba were sent to work despite exceeding the permissible methane concentrations, and the documentation and samples of coal dust were forged in the mine – to show that it was neutralized with stone dust.
The defense during the trial argued that what happened in Halemba was a random event, independent of the people.
27 people were accused in the case of the crash, some of them immediately voluntarily submitted themselves to punishment. There were 17 men on the dock in the first trial. In January 2015, after more than six years, The District Court in Gliwice sentenced Z., accused of bringing the crash, to three years in prison (the prosecutor’s office demanded eight). 14 other defendants, including Kazimierz D. (the accusation demanded seven years), were then given suspended sentences, and two – acquittals.
In February 2016, examining appeals against the judgment of the first instance The Court of Appeal in Katowice partially quashed that decision – he referred the cases of Z. for reconsideration (having already legally sentenced to four months in prison for ordering his subordinate to falsify the documentation regarding the reading of gas concentrations in the mine after the crash), Kazimierz D. and Jan J. Their re-trial began in October 2016. The judgments against the others became final then.
Main photo source: Andrzej Grygiel / PAP / EPA