Windermere wedding fireworks blast deaths 'an accident'

The fireworks explosion at Ecclerigg Image copyright Anthony Middleton
Image caption Insurance boss John Simpson and Andrew Coates were involved in displays through their business venture, Stardust Fireworks

An explosion which killed two people who were preparing fireworks for a wedding was an accident, an inquest jury has ruled.

The bodies of Andrew Coates, 41, and his assistant Polly Connor, 46, were found in the wreckage of a storage building after the fire near the shore of Windermere in August 2014.

It is believed a single firework had flown into the storeroom and exploded.

The pair were inside either to find shelter, or firefighting equipment.

Explosions were heard three miles away, the hearing in Kendal was told.

It happened about 30 minutes after John Simpson, 61, wed Nicole Rothwell, 44.

Firefighters were called to the grounds of a luxury cottage in Ecclerigg in mid-afternoon on 30 August, where they found the bodies of father-of-one Mr Coates and mother-of-three Mrs Connor, both from Kendal, near the entrance of an outbuilding.

Giving evidence Stewart Myatt, a fireworks expert from the Health and Safety Laboratory, said he could not find any evidence to say how any of the fireworks ignited.

Image copyright Steve Barber
Image caption Polly Connor's body was found in a storeroom

The "most likely sequence of events" was that a firework shell penetrated a partitioned wooden wall from outside and hit the back of a metal cabinet in the storeroom before bursting into flames, he told the hearing.

The outbuilding was an L-shaped single-storey wooden construction split into three compartments, also containing a garage and another storage room.

Mr Myatt said: "Going through the wall, through the cabinet and exploding seems to be the most likely, plausible mechanism where the people that were in there were rendered unconscious immediately, not able to do anything, not even to run to the door."

He thought Mr Coates, a builder, and Mrs Connor, a plumber and former racehorse work rider, would have entered the storeroom to either find shelter from exploding fireworks outside or to get firefighting equipment.

'Incredibly safety conscious'

Mr Coates and insurance broker Mr Simpson were friends and had launched a joint business venture, Stardust Fireworks, with Mr Coates asked to organise the pyrotechnics for the wedding.

Both men were described as "incredibly safety conscious".

However, HM Coroner for Cumbria, David Roberts, said that it was "questionable" whether the wooden shed was a "suitable structure" for a fireworks store, and it also contained other material, some combustible.

He described the storage licence granted by Cumbria County Council in 2008 as "deficient" as it did not specify the type of fireworks or store to be used, and said he would write to the trading standards department to "carefully review" its licensing.

The inquest jury at Castle Green Hotel in Kendal ruled a verdict of accidental death.

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