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Judge fines council £30,000 over Atherstone firefighter deaths

17 December 2012

Warwickshire County Council has been fined £30,000 over the deaths of four firefighters at a warehouse fire in Atherstone-on-Stour in 2007. The council, as Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Authority, pleaded guilty in January to failing to ensure the health and safety of its employees under S2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. 

However, the council disputed some of the facts alleged by the Crown Prosecution Service, resulting in a so-called ‘Newton’ hearing last week, in which the judge determined the nature of the council’s failures.

In May, three fire officers were acquitted of the manslaughter by gross negligence of four firefighters. Firefighters John Averis, Ashley Stephens, Darren Yates-Badley and Ian Reid died as a result of the blaze at the vegetable packing warehouse.

Delivering his judgement on Friday at Stafford Crown Court, Mr Justice Macduff issued a £30,000 fine with no costs. He said the fine did not sum up the cost of the four men’s lives, but simply reflected deficiencies in record-keeping and information provided for fire crews at the time of the incident, according to BBC News.

Malcolm McHaffie, deputy head of special crime at the Crown Prosecution Service, said:

“This was a tragic and exceptional case in which four men lost their lives, representing the greatest loss of firefighters in a single incident in the UK in the last 30 years.

“Today’s sentencing recognises the duty owed by the council, through Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Authority, to the firefighters it employed and its failure to meet this.

Councillor Richard Hobbs, portfolio holder for community safety at Warwickshire County Council, said:

“We pleaded guilty to the charge brought under the Health and Safety Act because we recognise and accepted that there were failings on our part back in 2007. We apologise for those failings.

“Since then, as the judge emphasised today, Warwickshire has become a model fire authority and are training some of the finest in the country.

“No fire service can guarantee that nothing will ever go wrong again but we are confident that our service is as safe as it can be.

“A set of exceptional adverse factors conspired to bring about this tragedy and no one person or body was responsible.”

He added: “We will always remember the bravery of those who died in the service of their community and we offer our deepest condolences to their family and friends.”

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