Council fined over fatal blaze
A local authority has been fined £30,000 for health and safety failures linked to a warehouse blaze in which four firefighters died.
Mr Justice MacDuff said the fine imposed on Warwickshire County Council reflected deficiencies in record-keeping and information given to fire crews at the time of the tragedy in November 2007.
During his sentencing remarks at Stafford Crown Court, the judge described the deaths in Atherstone-on-Stour as a "dreadful accident" caused by a series of mishaps and failures which occurred together.
Warwickshire County Council, which employs firefighters in the county, pleaded guilty in January this year to a charge brought under the Health and Safety at Work Act following a criminal inquiry into the blaze.
Although the council pleaded guilty on a limited basis, the charge stated that it had failed to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees contrary to Section 2 of the Act.
Three fire service incident commanders also prosecuted in connection with the death were acquitted of four counts of manslaughter at the same court earlier this year.
A jury cleared Adrian Ashley, 45, and 51-year-old Timothy Woodward of gross negligence manslaughter after hearing six weeks of evidence about the deaths of Ashley Stephens, Darren Yates-Badley, John Averis and Ian Reid. A third defendant, 50-year-old Watch Manager Paul Simmons, was acquitted of manslaughter on the directions of the judge part-way through the trial.
Passing sentence on the county council on Friday, Mr Justice MacDuff was critical of aspects of the Crown's case against the three incident commanders. Ruling that senior fire officers had been correct to send crews wearing breathing apparatus into the warehouse, the judge said the main expert witness for the prosecution had not been "fair or balanced" during parts of his evidence.
Describing parts of the prosecution's case - including an assertion that the incident commanders had behaved like First World War generals - as "unacceptable", the judge noted: "All those who attended on that day were qualified firefighters, also experts.
"Prosecution witness after witness went into the witness box and - with a singular exception - spoke in support of the decision to commit men to locate and fight the fire. If it needs me to say so, this dreadful accident was caused, as so many accidents are, by a series of mishaps occurring together, by a whole host of causes, some being more potent than others."