Page last updated at 16:09 GMT, Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Firework blast warnings 'ignored'

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

A boss of a Sussex fireworks factory that went up in flames has said fire officers ignored him when he tried to prevent a fatal blast.

Nathan Winter told Lewes Crown Court he warned a firefighter crews needed to stop fire reaching a metal container of fireworks at the site near Lewes.

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

Fire officers Geoff Wicker and Brian Wembridge died in the blast at Marlie Farm near Shortgate in December 2006.

At the start of his defence, Mr Winter said firefighters sprayed water on to the roof of a storage facility of cardboard, timber and tubing, which was next to the metal container.

But he said the water did not do anything because it just ran off.

"I asked that the hoses focus inside to soak the contents," he said.

I felt I was being ignored - his attitude was that I wasn't in a position to tell him how to do his job
Nathan Winter

And he also asked if he could open the doors of the tube store to dampen its contents but was rebuffed by a fire officer.

Mr Winter said: "I was telling him that we needed to stop the fire getting to the container but I felt I was being ignored.

"His attitude was that I wasn't in a position to tell him how to do his job."

He said he continued to press the issue and gave repeated warnings, but was arrested and led away by police.

Mr Winter said he also told police that fire officers were not listening to him, and he said they needed to pull out.

He said: "If tube store one took light the entire contents would become involved and then it would mean that the fire was within 6ft to 8ft of the container.

"With fire being that close to explosives, there was a possibility that it would explode."

Mr Winter also said he told at least one fire officer that the contents of the container were hazard type three.

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

He insisted he did not put in any hazard type-one fireworks, which are seen as the most dangerous fireworks.

At the time of the blast, the metal container was being used to house fireworks before being shipped to the Middle East, the court was told.

Mr Winter said there was nothing unusual about the contents.

Prosecutors have claimed the Winters were aware of the hazards posed by housing such fireworks in a metal container, which was not authorised by the company's licence.

Jurors have also heard arguments the Winters could not be considered responsible for the two deaths because it was the duty of firefighters to be aware of the dangers.

Not guilty pleas have been entered on behalf of Martin Winter's company, now called Alpha Fireworks Ltd, which faces two counts of breaching health and safety legislation.

The case continues.

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