Stoke & Staffordshire

Stafford fireworks factory owner guilty of fire deaths

Stewart Staples and Simon Hillier Image copyright Staffordshire Police
Image caption Stewart Staples (L) and Simon Hillier (R) died in the fire

The owner of a factory "rammed" with fireworks has been convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence after two men were killed in a fire.

Employee Simon Hillier and customer Stewart Staples died in the blaze at SP Fireworks factory in Baswich, Stafford, on 30 October 2014.

Richard Pearson, 44, was found guilty of causing their deaths through gross negligence at Stafford Crown Court.

Judge Michael Chambers QC said Pearson showed "no remorse and blamed others".

The company director, who was also injured in the fire, will be sentenced on 13 June.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Richard Pearson had denied failing to take reasonable care in the storing and handling of explosives

During the trial, the prosecution had claimed the number of fireworks stored at the unit were "up to 10 times the permitted limit".

Prosecutor Allan Compton said Pearson allegedly told paramedics treating him for his injuries at the scene that it was "rammed" with explosives and he would "go to prison" for the fire.

Pearson, of The Woodlands, Stafford, had denied failing to take reasonable care in the storing and handling of explosives.

In his defence, Pearson told the court he believed Mr Hillier may have been carrying a "home-made" firework which set of the fatal fire.

He told jurors he learnt a year after their deaths that Mr Hillier had stored products in his garage for a display and "friction" may have set one off, causing an explosion to "roll" from a stairwell across his shop.

The judge said Pearson "has shown no remorse whatsoever and he has blamed others which is an aggravating feature in this case".

"Anyone who looks after fireworks does so under an extremely high duty of care."

Image copyright Jodiphotography
Image caption SP Plastics in Baswich, Stafford, was destroyed on 30 October 2014

Worker Mr Hillier, 41, and customer Mr Staples, 57, both from Hednesford, Staffordshire, died from inhaling combustible products after the fire engulfed the industrial unit.

They were not found by emergency services until the day after because the roof of the unit in Tilcon Avenue collapsed.

Eyewitnesses reported hearing an "enormous bang" and subsequent explosions.

The family of Mr Staples, said the jury "got the right verdict."

"It has been a long and difficult three-and-a-half years since his death and the case being brought to trial," they said.

"These years have seen our family struggle with pain, anger and grief over the loss of Stewart."

In a statement, Mr Hillier's family said: "As a small close knit family it has left a massive hole in our lives and our lives will never be the same again."

Glynn Luznyj, from Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, welcomed the ruling.

"This was an incredibly difficult incident for firefighters, who worked relentlessly to extinguish the blaze.

"The physical strain was nothing compared to the emotional anguish the crews felt knowing that lives had been lost."

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