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Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2006, 09:29 GMT
Buncefield: Life after the blasts
By Rob Corp
BBC News website

With Christmas lights up in the streets and people busily shopping, Hemel Hempstead looks like every other British town at this time of year.

Buncefield fuel tanks on fire
The first fuel tank exploded at 0601 GMT on 11 December 2005

The sense of normality makes it hard to remember that a year ago, this town witnessed Britain's biggest peacetime explosion.

The depot where the series of explosions happened is 500 metres from Ford Shackcloth's home. The twisted, buckled and rusting tanks can clearly be seen across a flat field.

Sitting in his living room, Mr Shackcloth's recollection of that Sunday morning remains as fresh as the paint on the walls, redecorated following work needed to repair the damage.

"The first memory was being woken up at six o'clock in the morning, and staring at the sky," he said.

Given how close Mr Shackcloth lives to the site, he says he immediately concluded that the explosion was "something to do with Buncefield".

Ford Shackcloth
I would hope in the next 12 months, someone from the oil company does the honourable thing and says 'I'm really sorry'
Ford Shackcloth

Like many residents, he decided the best thing to do would be to get to safety.

But five hours after the blast, he returned with his father to the house, to pick up clothes and find their three cats.

"The front door was blown off its hinges, we couldn't get out of either of the back doors.

"We hadn't lost any windows, fortunately, because the big block of garages had taken the brunt and deflected the blast. They're still being rebuilt now," he said.

They were out of the house for two weeks, staying in a hotel and with Mr Shackcloth's parents.

But even with the house repaired, and life back to some semblance of normality, the long-term effects of the Buncefield explosion are still being felt.

Ford Shackcloth's damaged garage
Ford Shackcloth's garage bore the brunt of the blast

Mr Shackcloth says the blast has wiped significant value off his home, because no-one wants to own a property so close to the oil depot.

"We're in a position now where we don't want to live here anymore, for obvious reasons, even though it's a nice house and we've got nice neighbours.

"The house has been on the market for six months - we've had no-one come and look at it," Mr Shackcloth said.

"I would hope in the next 12 months, someone from the oil company does the honourable thing and says 'I'm really sorry, it was our fault, and here's making good your losses'."

Hotel nightmare

For Heidi Brazier, the Hemel Hempstead Holiday Inn has become a home from home because the family house is still uninhabitable.

For six out of the last 12 months, she has stayed at the hotel with her husband and seven children aged from one to 17.

Mrs Brazier is quick to praise the staff and management, who she says have been "fabulous" but says living there has been a "nightmare".

Heidi Brazier (C) with children Alex and Megan
The past year of our life has been dedicated to Buncefield
Heidi Brazier

"You've got nowhere to cook, nowhere to clean, nowhere to wash.

"Children need PE kits - they get their kit dirty one day, they need it two days later, you've got no washing machine to wash it," she said.

Living across five hotel rooms has been a challenge for the Braziers, and has disrupted the family's stability and particularly the education of the children.

Their situation is compounded by the ongoing legal battle for compensation and the family has joined a 300-strong class action, in an attempt to recoup the cost of uninsured losses.

"We've got Christmas looming, we've got seven children, and no money.

"I don't feel that any of us should be left a single penny out of pocket, because this is not our fault," Mrs Brazier said.

Two burnt out tanks at Buncefield (Dec 2006)
Evidence of the blast at Buncefield remains clear

She wants someone to admit that they were to blame for the blast, and is angry at what she believes is the "lack of compassion" shown by the depot operator, Hertfordshire Oil Storage Limited (HOSL).

In a statement, HOSL says it was "working hard to respond positively to the situation".

"Our priorities continue to be to provide support for the local community, to progress claims as pragmatically and sensitively as possible, to co-operate fully with the investigations and to clean-up the site," the statement said.

The company has donated more than 375,000 to local initiatives and stresses it is "doing everything we can to progress claims as quickly as possible."

Twelve months may have passed, but the initial shock has given way to anger and frustration for the Brazier family.

"The past year of our life has been dedicated to Buncefield," said Mrs Brazier.

"We've lived, breathed, slept Buncefield. We've lost effectively a year of our lives."

Oil depot blast report published
08 Nov 06 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Oil blast claims to be negotiated
30 Oct 06 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts


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