Page last updated at 17:21 GMT, Monday, 14 December 2009

Fireworks factory boss found guilty over firemen deaths

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

A fireworks factory owner has been found guilty of the manslaughter of two firemen killed in an explosion.

Geoff Wicker, 49, and Brian Wembridge, 63, were killed in the fire at Marlie Farm, in Shortgate, near Lewes, East Sussex, in December 2006.

Alpha Fireworks boss Martin Winter, 52, was convicted at Lewes Crown Court.

The jury will continue its deliberations on two charges of manslaughter faced by Winter's son Nathan, 25, on Tuesday.

Company owner Martin Winter, 52, was "grossly negligent" as he knew an unlicensed metal container packed with fireworks could explode if a blaze broke out, the court heard.

Distinguished career

As well as killing the two firemen, both long-serving members of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, the blast injured 20 others, mainly police and fire officers.

Following a trial at Lewes Crown Court, the company, now called Alpha Fireworks Ltd, was also found guilty of two counts of breaching health and safety legislation.

The metal container was being used to house fireworks before being shipped to the Middle East, the court heard during the trial.

Prosecutors argued that 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.

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

Jurors also heard the Winters' defence that they could not be considered responsible for the two deaths because it was the duty of firefighters to be aware of the dangers.

Brian Wembridge, 63, who was married with two sons, had a long and distinguished career with the fire service, joining it as an operational firefighter in 1961.

He retired in 1994, completing his service as officer in charge at Lewes, before transferring to support services where his role included taking footage at fire scenes.

Geoff Wicker, 49, who was married with two daughters, joined the fire service more than 30 years ago as a retained duty system firefighter at Mayfield, then switched to Heathfield, where he was watch commander.

In the mid-1990s he joined the mobility and communication centre, and fire chiefs said his knowledge and skills saw him rapidly promoted to watch officer.


Martin Winter was found guilty at Lewes Crown Court

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