Page last updated at 20:53 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

Fireworks blast 'like war scene'

Geoff Wicker and Brian Wembridge
Geoff Wicker (L) and Brian Wembridge died in the explosion

A firefighter has told a court the aftermath of a blast at a fireworks factory that killed two colleagues was like a scene from World War I.

Steve Wells told Lewes Crown Court he saw bodies scattered on the ground following the explosion at Marlie Farm, near Lewes, in December 2006.

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

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

'Almighty explosion'

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

Mr Wells, a crew manager at Lewes fire station with more than 20 years service, said he was at the entrance to the site when there was "an almighty explosion".

Smoke and fireworks from the fire at the fireworks factory
Firefighters decided to dampen the container to prevent it igniting

Mr Wells, who was uninjured, said: "I came up to a small wall and I saw what I described as what I would imagine the Somme to have been like.

"There were numerous brown lumps lying on the floor all around the area which I later realised were firefighters in their uniforms."

He told the court Nathan Winter warned him away from a metal container before the explosion, but Martin Winter had claimed timber was stored in the container.

Mr Wells said he ordered his colleagues to remove their engine from the yard, angering Martin Winter.

"I believe the word he used was we were 'cowards' for not taking the appliances in further to attack the fire," he said.

During cross-examination Mr Wells said he had undergone "very little" training in tackling fires involving fireworks and decided to dampen down the container to prevent it from igniting.

'Tearful and upset'

Another firefighter, Richard Ross, told jurors Martin Winter was "very aggressive" before the explosion and tried to grab hold of the firefighters' water hoses saying he would put the fire out himself.

He said Nathan Winter seemed "very tearful and upset" but refused to tell him what exactly was in the container.

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

Not guilty pleas have 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 claims 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 continues.

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