Page last updated at 16:58 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Dead firemen's training attacked

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

Mistakes made by East Sussex Fire and Rescue contributed to the deaths of two of its own fire officers in a blast at a fireworks depot, a jury has heard.

Geoff Wicker, 49, and Brian Wembridge, 63, died in the explosion at Marlie Farm, East Sussex, on 3 December 2006.

Alpha Fireworks boss Martin Winter, 52, and son Nathan, 25, deny manslaughter.

Outlining their case at Lewes Crown Court, defence lawyers said the firefighters might not have died if they had received relevant training.

The trial has heard how a metal container illegally packed with fireworks "exploded like a bomb" after a fire broke out at the site in Shortgate, near Lewes.

You need to consider among the allegations whether any of the firefighters who attended Marlie Farm had any real idea that they were dealing with explosives
Mukul Chawla QC

Some 20 other people, mostly police and fire officers, were injured in the explosion, which sent fragments of the container far and wide.

Jurors were told that Mr Winter and his son were aware of the hazards posed by housing fireworks in a metal container but kept them in there anyway.

But Mukul Chawla QC , defending the men, said they could not be considered responsible for the two deaths.

Mr Chawla said it was the duty of fire officers at the scene to have been aware of the dangers of a blaze involving fireworks and to have taken the necessary precautions.

Referring to the Health and Safety Executive's Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations (MSER) he told the jury: "It's no coincidence that fireworks here are referred to as explosives as that's what they are.

Nathan and Martin Winter
Nathan Winter and his father Martin both deny manslaughter

"You need to consider among the allegations whether any of the firefighters who attended Marlie Farm had any real idea that they were dealing with explosives.

"The simple truth is that if the firefighters had followed their own established process, if the senior officer present at the time had followed any of their processes, neither Mr Wicker nor Mr Wembridge would have been anywhere near that container when it exploded.

"But for whatever reason, it appears that none of these firefighters... were provided with any training, or had at any stage their attention brought to the MSER regulations or the approved code of practice in relation to these regulations or to the published procedures."

Mr Chawla explained that the regulations state that "if a fire is established and involves explosives or threatens to spread to them, evacuate to a distance of 600m".

But he said this was in no way adhered to.

Advice 'ignored'

Referring to the storage of fireworks, Mr Chawla said the defendants "better than anyone knew that they were dangerous".

He said: "Is it really likely to be the case that they would allow the storage to take place within a few yards of the house that the Winter family occupied, the house which was razed to the ground by the explosion and ensuing fires?"

Jeremy Wainwright, representing Nathan Winter, told the court he had warned firefighters of a risk of a serious explosion if they reached the container but he was not listened to.

"Because of his age, that advice was tragically ignored and that was not Nathan Winter's fault.

"Had his advice been taken it may have avoided the tragedy that then followed," he said.

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.

The trial continues.

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