'Families have been so dignified'
SPEAKING to a family liaison officer a year on from the Gleision disaster, she is full of admiration for the relatives of the miners — "dignified" is the word she uses.
Sian Grant, from South Wales Police, first met the families in Rhos Community Centre just hours after the alarm was raised, and stayed with them all the way through the desperate underground search, the discovery of the bodies, the funerals, and the coming-to-terms with the deaths over the last 12 months.
"The families have been so dignified through all this," she said.
"I have so much respect for them.
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"They have been incredible — and I am very proud to have been part of the Gleision team."
Initially the liaison officers were with their allotted families in the community centre near the mine while the emergency services searched for their loved ones — there they passed on information and acted as a link to what was happening underground while still fulfilling their primary role, that of detective.
And then at 3am, the first body was found — though at first it was not possible to identify it. "Everybody in the community centre was devastated when we got the news," she said.
"You could see in people's faces, everyone was hoping and praying that the boys would be found alive."
Later that morning the families went home, accompanied by their liaison officers, and waited for news of the other miners.
And then for each family came the terrible moment they had all been dreading. "You have to break the news to them that their rock, the person they set the dinner plate for in the evening, the person they rely on, has gone," said the officer.
"It is a very emotional thing to do — you have to support them but also give them the space they need."
Once all the bodies had been recovered from the mine, then came the ordeal of formal identification, followed by the funerals, and then adjusting to life without their loved ones.
Over the last year the liaison officers have been on-hand when needed.
But through all the grief and pain, the detective said the families took great comfort from the messages of support they received.
"There were so many cards, letters and flowers from all over the world," she said.
"Many came from miners and mining communities, including messages from the Chilean miners who had recently been rescued.
"I know the families took great consolation from everything they were sent, from all the messages of support they received.
"Of course nothing will take the pain away, but I know the messages meant so much to them and they are very grateful. And the way the local community rallied round to support them was amazing.
"The first anniversary is of course a very difficult time for the families, very emotional — they are just living their lives day-by-day, they are so dignified."