Firefighters 'died needlessly' in Atherstone warehouse, court told

By Court reporter 25/04 Updated: 25/04 10:48

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Buy photos » Firefighters at the scene of the Atherstone tragedy. (s)

FOUR firefighters killed in the Atherstone warehouse blaze 'died needlessly' after being sent into an 'obviously dangerous situation for no good reason' - a court has been told.

Ian Reid, John Averis, Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley died in the blaze at the vegetable packing plant, in November 2007.

The trial of fire managers Timothy Woodward, Paul Simmons and Adrian Ashley on counts of manslaughter by gross negligence got underway at Stafford Crown Court on Friday (April 20)

Prosecutor, Richard Matthews QC, told the jury there was nobody in the warehouse at the time of the blaze.

He said the men who died had been ordered into a smoke-filled storage compartment containing only cardboard boxes, labels and some old furniture.

As a consequence, said Mr Matthews, the failings of each of the three defendants were a cause of the men's deaths because they had not properly assessed the blaze.

A group of protesters were again at court as the men arrived and have regularly called for the charges to be dropped.

But Mr Matthews insisted it was not a case about 'the irritating trivialities of health and safety red tape'.

He said: "This is not about stopping the heroic members of our emergency services from risking their lives, and the lives of those who may be under their command, to save others.

"Rather, it's only about the needless loss of four lives, four individuals, lost as a result of having been sent into a situation where no-one was in peril ... sent into what was and should have been recognised as an obviously dangerous situation for no good reason."

Mr Reid, 44, died in hospital, while the bodies of Mr Averis, 27, Mr Stephens, 20, and Mr Yates-Badley, 24, were recovered from the building days later.

"What should have been apparent," continued Mr Matthews, "was that sending firefighters into that situation equipped in the way you will hear they were - with the inadequate resources that were to hand - was unnecessarily dangerous."

Mr Woodward, 50, from Leamington, Mr Simmons, 51, from Hampton Magna, and Mr Ashley, 45, from Nuneaton are accused of gross negligence, while working as incident commanders during the blaze.

And Mr Simmons and Mr Ashley are also accused of breaching their duty of care to those who were killed by 'exposing them to substantial risk to life when no other lives were at risk'.

Mr Woodward is alleged to have breached his duty of care to the men by failing to stop the deployment of colleagues wearing breathing apparatus for the purpose of 'offensive' firefighting.

The trial continues.

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