Page last updated at 13:41 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009

'Scene of chaos' at blast depot

Geoff Wicker and Brian Wembridge
Geoff Wicker and Brian Wembridge died in the explosion

A police officer has described how an explosion at a fireworks depot in which two firefighters were killed, sent up a mushroom cloud of debris.

Pc Dave Upjohn was giving evidence in the trial of two men who deny the manslaughter of the fire officers at Marlie Farm in December 2006.

Alpha Fireworks boss Martin Winter, 52, and son Nathan, 25, deny the charges at Lewes Crown Court.

The Pc said it was a scene of "chaos" and he knew there had been casualties.

Geoff Wicker, 49, and Brian Wembridge, 63, from East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, died in the blast.

The court heard that a metal container packed with fireworks exploded, causing fragments to injure about 20 people, mainly police and fire officers.

'Flying debris'

Pc Upjohn said that on the night of the explosion, he was patrolling in Hastings when he was called to the scene in Shortgate, near Lewes, to help deal with traffic and man a cordon.

He said: "There was a large shockwave that came across and which caused me to step backwards.

"I was already slightly unsteady on my feet when it was followed up by a loud explosion.

"The next thing I remember was the debris going up in the air - fireworks, smoke, almost like a mushroom cloud.

"It was fairly frantic. I believe a telephone pole came out of the explosion and landed just a few feet in front of us.

Smoke and fireworks from the fire at the fireworks factory
Two firemen were killed in the explosion in December 2006

"It was chaos. Looking up, I was aware there were firefighters trying to fight the fire.

"They were very close to the explosion and I knew there were casualties.

"There was a lot of damage to the vehicles and there was debris flying around.

"We tried to assist the injured. Firefighters were coming out and they were dragging their injured colleagues out.

"They were all in a state of shock and I just tried to help as I could."

Steel container

Not guilty pleas have also been entered on behalf of Martin Winter's company, formerly known as Festival Fireworks UK Ltd, which faces two counts of breaching health and safety legislation.

Prosecutors claim the Winters were aware of the hazards posed by storing fireworks in a metal container, which was not authorised by their licence.

It is also claimed they were both familiar with fireworks classifications, and the potential for a mass explosion in a confined steel container.

The defence says the Winters could not be responsible for the deaths, because it was the duty of fire officers to be aware of the dangers of the fireworks at the site, and take necessary precautions.

The case was adjourned until Monday.

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