The pretty village of Abbeystead in the Forest of Bowland is one of the last places you would expect an industrial disaster to occur. On May 22 1984, however, a party from nearby St Michael’s-on-Wyre being shown around the water pumping station on the Duke of Westminster’s land near Abbeystead was devastated by a huge explosion of naturally occurring methane trapped in the station’s underground tunnels.
St Michael’s had suffered from flooding in recent years, and the party was being given a demonstration and presentation to show that the station was not at fault. There were 44 people in the underground chamber, eight officials from the water board and 36 villagers, when either an electrical spark or more probably a cigarette being lit ignited methane causing a giant fire ball that brought the concrete roof down. Eight died at the scene from trauma injuries. The survivors were rushed to Lancaster Royal Infirmary and Royal Preston Hospital, nearly all with burns of varying degrees of severity: eight succumbed to their injuries over the ensuing weeks, the last victim dying three months after the explosion.
The complexity of the legal wrangling that followed meant it took our court system until November 1989 to resolve it.
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