Council fined over fire deaths case

By IH Monday 10 December 2012 Updated: 12/12 07:50

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Buy photos » Firefighters from Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service at the Atherstone blaze in 2007. (s)

WARWICKSHIRE County Council has been fined £30,000 following the death of four firefighters in the Atherstone warehouse blaze.

The council had already pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety legislation before the start of the trial at Stafford Crown Court.

Mr Justice MacDuff said the fine given to the council "in no way" summed up the cost of the four men's lives but reflected shortcomings in record-keeping and information given to fire crews at the time of the huge fire at the vegetable packing plant in November 2007.

He added the investigation had cost £5 million in total and he had issued a £30,000 fine because he "didn't want the public purse to suffer any more than it needed to."

He added: "“This dreadful accident was caused by a series of mishaps and failures occurring together some being more potent than others.

“The defendant (Warwickshire County Council) has reformed its risk management systems and training and equipment. I am entirely satisfied that there has been full rectification of these matters."

The bodies of John Averis, 27, from from Tredington, Ashley Stephens, 20, and Darren Yates-Badley, 24, both from Alcester, were recovered from the gutted warehouse, while Ian Reid, 44, from Stratford, died later in hospital after being pulled from the wreckage.

Defending, Ben Compton QC said the Atherstone fire marked the "darkest year" for firefighters in the last 30 years and had left families and colleagues filled with "grief and emptiness".

Some 100 firefighters, from Warwickshire, and neighbouring Hereford and Worcester and the West Midlands tackled the blaze at the site owned by Wealmoor Atherstone Ltd.

Three senior fire officers - involved in the command process on the fateful night of the fire - had previously been charged with manslaughter by gross negligence. All three were cleared by a court in May this year.

The charges prompted a war of words between the county's fire service and police force.

Warwickshire Police criticised the fire service for not being helpful enough during the investigation, a charge the fire service vigorously denied. They subsequently demanded an explanation from the Home Office as to why the three men were charged.

The investigation into the fire has already cost £4.6 million. Police remain convinced it was started deliberately but no one has ever been charged. Three men and a woman were arrested on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life. in May 2009, but were later released without charge.

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