Page last updated at 17:44 GMT, Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Safety criticism over fire deaths

The burnt-out warehouse
Investigations have taken place at the warehouse

An investigation into a blaze which led to the deaths of four firefighters has found officers were not given enough information before attending the scene.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service with an improvement notice after the warehouse fire in November.

Ashley Stephens, 20, John Averis, 27, and Darren Yates-Badley, 24, were found dead in the gutted remains.

Ian Reid, 44, died in hospital after the fire in Atherstone-on-Stour.

Alan Craddock, head of operations for the HSE in the Midlands, said it had formed its opinion based on the evidence seen.

We are not happy with current wider arrangements on their provision of information
Alan Craddock, HSE

He said: "The current arrangements employed by the authority do not comply with the statutory duties to provide its firefighters with all the information they should have to assist them in making the appropriate decisions when attending a fire."

Mr Craddock said the fire service had four months to improve its arrangements for providing information on aspects such as locality of an incident, particular hazards of buildings involved and where a water supply can be found.

Debris removed

He said: "Our investigation is not just looking at the incident in Atherstone-on-Stour, it is looking at the wider arrangements.

"We are not happy with current wider arrangements on their provision of information given to crews attending fires at certain premises."

Mr Craddock said the service should make an action plan for the inspection of premises which gives priority to higher risk buildings.

The fire service could appeal against the improvement notice within the next 21 days, he said.

William Brown, Warwickshire's county fire officer, confirmed that the service had received the improvement notice and it would be "carefully" considered.

'Stepping stone'

Det Supt Ken Lawrence, of Warwickshire Police, said forensic experts were preparing to enter the building for the first time.

"We are approaching the part of the building where the firefighters were recovered," he said.

So far 30 tonnes of debris has been removed from the building for examination and a further 230 tonnes has yet to be recovered.

Mr Lawrence said officers could be at the site until the middle of March.

Detectives have so far taken 1,100 witness statements and recovered more than 1,700 exhibits.

Mr Lawrence told a news conference that evidence suggested that the factory had been evacuated before fire crews arrived.

'Grave concerns'

When asked if any prosecution could be brought about, he said: "It's far too early to be talking about prosecution."

Mr Lawrence described the improvement notice issued to Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service as "a stepping stone".

He said: "It's part of a big and complex investigation. It has some significance and helps us shape some aspects of the investigation.

"It's not a conclusion - it's a step along the way but it certainly is not the end result."

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said its "grave concerns" about firefighter safety had been ignored.

He said: "We welcome the improvement notice, but it is a tragedy that four more young firefighters have died before such a notice was served."

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