Manslaughter charges to be brought against fire-service bosses

Three fire-service managers are to face manslaughter charges in relation to the deaths of four fire-fighters in a warehouse blaze in 2007, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced today (28 February).

Paul Simmons, Adrian Ashley and Timothy Woodward, of the Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, will appear before Leamington magistrates on 1 April to answer charges that they were grossly negligent in sending colleagues Ian Reid, John Averis, Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley into the burning building in Atherstone-on-Stour on 2 November 2007. The four men lost their lives in the blaze, which broke out in a vegetable store at the premises of Wealmoor (Atherstone).

On the day, Paul Simmons and Adrian Ashley were watch managers, and Timothy Woodward was station manager but, according to the CPS, all three acted as incident commanders “before, during and after their colleagues were sent into the burning building”.

Michael Gregory, reviewing lawyer in the CPS Special Crime Division, added: “In that role they were responsible for making the operational decisions while their colleagues tried to put out the fire.”

The incident was the subject of a thorough investigation by the Warwickshire Police and the HSE, on the basis of whose findings the CPS decided there was sufficient evidence, and that it was in the public interest, to charge the three men with manslaughter by gross negligence.

It also found that there was sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction against Warwickshire County Council for failing to protect the health and safety of employees. The council will therefore face a charge under section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, also brought by the CPS.

The decision to prosecute was welcomed by Warwickshire Police, which said: “This has been a long and complex investigation and the CPS has reviewed it with due diligence before making its decision. The judicial process has now begun and we must await the outcome.

“Our thoughts are with the families of the four fire-fighters who died.”

Ian Reid died in hospital on 2 November 2007. The bodies of John Averis, Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley were recovered at the scene of the fire four days later.

Following the incident, the HSE served an Improvement Notice on Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, giving it four months to improve the way information on hazards in buildings and the location of water supply is provided at incidents.

The CPS has not received any evidence from the Police relating to anyone suspected of deliberately starting the fire.

Meanwhile, the CPS is also reportedly considering corporate manslaughter charges against Portuguese firm Sonae, following the deaths of two workers at its wood-recycling plant on Merseyside last December. According to the Liverpool Echo, prosecutors will meet HSE officials at the end of March to decide whether or not to take any action.

Cleraly this was tragic for the peole who lost their lives but how many more people will now die who are trapped as managers will not allow fire fighters into buildings that are on fire.
dmaddock@ihsafety
The article doesn't give the grounds of the charges against the them - surely sending fire fighters into a burning building is not a chargeable offence? What should the H&S world be learning from this event?
candy
A case in Scotland was the subject of a Fatal Accident Inquiry where the Fire & Rescue Service (FRS) commander on the spot delayed action in rescuing a person who had fallen down a mine shaft to ensure the safety of the FRS staff. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-12610863 If I remember some of the details of the Warwickshire case the FRS went in because they thought that there were people (possibly vagrants) in the building. Glad I'm not in charge - damned if you do & ..... .
maxbancroft@blueyonder
If the building was unoccupied I can see no reason to risk firefighters lives by entry during a fire of this magnitude.Only where there is a risk to the lives of occupiers should entry be considered.
mailme
The fire brigade left a woman in a collapsed mineshaft to die slowly in an incident in Scotland recently because the firemen were not allowed to help her as the risk was considered too great. The firemen will no longer be allowed to take any risks and maybe we should go back to the insurance companies providing rescue services - provided you pay your premiums.
davida@reaburndrilling
I think we should wait for the evidence to be presented and judged before we can comment on ifs and buts. Is the fire brigade role to fight fire whatever the cost or to be responsible as any other employer has to be and balance risk and act on that judgement? If the decision was flawed, and it may not have been, then this should come out in court. Or do we think that fire officers should be sent into buildings regardless even though they may be unsafe or do we expect professionalism to prevail?
sjsafety@hotmail
It is not the going in but how. As one who runs emergency teams we use a simple check-list. Possible colapse - take props, lack of oxygen- take air tanks etc. (not quite that simple but you get the picture) therefore a risk assessment and hence MS can be done in under a minute to ensure you have thought of team safety. (& can prove it). Going in to burning buildings-No Problem - just think first!
filberton@aol
In rural areas the fire crews attending are oftern retained or part time crews, for many years the training these individuals recieve has been grossly inadequate, usually a 4 day course followed by 2 hour training sessions weekly on station. The people who should be in the dock are the ones who hold the purse strings and the policy makers. thats right, the politicians.
m
"Save life & render humanitarian service" The guiding philosophy any fire-fighter who joins the fire service accepts & if the situation arises where people are at risk from fire or trapped because of fire thus needing help or assistance, then that is what the job entails. The need to do everything with the utmost safety is not always possible to achieve where time is critical & that's where training, experience & downright bravado takes over in order to get in & save your children.Get realHSE
brian
This is a very important case for the future of fire fighting and management, as well as health and safety. The facts of the case are not clear or obvious, but presumably the CPS believe they have sufficient evidence of gross negligence to warrant a trial. God help them if they do not. It my understanding that fire fighters are only asked to risk their lives if there are people in the building who need rescuing, otherwise the building is considered to be expendable. Makes good sense to me.
ray

Manslaughter charges to be brought against fire-service bosses

Three fire-service managers are to face manslaughter charges in relation to the deaths of four fire-fighters in a warehouse blaze in 2007, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced today (28 February).

Paul Simmons, Adrian Ashley and Timothy Woodward, of the Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, will appear before Leamington magistrates on 1 April to answer charges that they were grossly negligent in sending colleagues Ian Reid, John Averis, Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley into the burning building in Atherstone-on-Stour on 2 November 2007. The four men lost their lives in the blaze, which broke out in a vegetable store at the premises of Wealmoor (Atherstone).

On the day, Paul Simmons and Adrian Ashley were watch managers, and Timothy Woodward was station manager but, according to the CPS, all three acted as incident commanders “before, during and after their colleagues were sent into the burning building”.

Michael Gregory, reviewing lawyer in the CPS Special Crime Division, added: “In that role they were responsible for making the operational decisions while their colleagues tried to put out the fire.”

The incident was the subject of a thorough investigation by the Warwickshire Police and the HSE, on the basis of whose findings the CPS decided there was sufficient evidence, and that it was in the public interest, to charge the three men with manslaughter by gross negligence.

It also found that there was sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction against Warwickshire County Council for failing to protect the health and safety of employees. The council will therefore face a charge under section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, also brought by the CPS.

The decision to prosecute was welcomed by Warwickshire Police, which said: “This has been a long and complex investigation and the CPS has reviewed it with due diligence before making its decision. The judicial process has now begun and we must await the outcome.

“Our thoughts are with the families of the four fire-fighters who died.”

Ian Reid died in hospital on 2 November 2007. The bodies of John Averis, Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley were recovered at the scene of the fire four days later.

Following the incident, the HSE served an Improvement Notice on Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, giving it four months to improve the way information on hazards in buildings and the location of water supply is provided at incidents.

The CPS has not received any evidence from the Police relating to anyone suspected of deliberately starting the fire.

Meanwhile, the CPS is also reportedly considering corporate manslaughter charges against Portuguese firm Sonae, following the deaths of two workers at its wood-recycling plant on Merseyside last December. According to the Liverpool Echo, prosecutors will meet HSE officials at the end of March to decide whether or not to take any action.

Cleraly this was tragic for the peole who lost their lives but how many more people will now die who are trapped as managers will not allow fire fighters into buildings that are on fire.
dmaddock@ihsafety
The article doesn't give the grounds of the charges against the them - surely sending fire fighters into a burning building is not a chargeable offence? What should the H&S world be learning from this event?
candy
A case in Scotland was the subject of a Fatal Accident Inquiry where the Fire & Rescue Service (FRS) commander on the spot delayed action in rescuing a person who had fallen down a mine shaft to ensure the safety of the FRS staff. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-12610863 If I remember some of the details of the Warwickshire case the FRS went in because they thought that there were people (possibly vagrants) in the building. Glad I'm not in charge - damned if you do & ..... .
maxbancroft@blueyonder
If the building was unoccupied I can see no reason to risk firefighters lives by entry during a fire of this magnitude.Only where there is a risk to the lives of occupiers should entry be considered.
mailme
The fire brigade left a woman in a collapsed mineshaft to die slowly in an incident in Scotland recently because the firemen were not allowed to help her as the risk was considered too great. The firemen will no longer be allowed to take any risks and maybe we should go back to the insurance companies providing rescue services - provided you pay your premiums.
davida@reaburndrilling
I think we should wait for the evidence to be presented and judged before we can comment on ifs and buts. Is the fire brigade role to fight fire whatever the cost or to be responsible as any other employer has to be and balance risk and act on that judgement? If the decision was flawed, and it may not have been, then this should come out in court. Or do we think that fire officers should be sent into buildings regardless even though they may be unsafe or do we expect professionalism to prevail?
sjsafety@hotmail
It is not the going in but how. As one who runs emergency teams we use a simple check-list. Possible colapse - take props, lack of oxygen- take air tanks etc. (not quite that simple but you get the picture) therefore a risk assessment and hence MS can be done in under a minute to ensure you have thought of team safety. (& can prove it). Going in to burning buildings-No Problem - just think first!
filberton@aol
In rural areas the fire crews attending are oftern retained or part time crews, for many years the training these individuals recieve has been grossly inadequate, usually a 4 day course followed by 2 hour training sessions weekly on station. The people who should be in the dock are the ones who hold the purse strings and the policy makers. thats right, the politicians.
m
"Save life & render humanitarian service" The guiding philosophy any fire-fighter who joins the fire service accepts & if the situation arises where people are at risk from fire or trapped because of fire thus needing help or assistance, then that is what the job entails. The need to do everything with the utmost safety is not always possible to achieve where time is critical & that's where training, experience & downright bravado takes over in order to get in & save your children.Get realHSE
brian
This is a very important case for the future of fire fighting and management, as well as health and safety. The facts of the case are not clear or obvious, but presumably the CPS believe they have sufficient evidence of gross negligence to warrant a trial. God help them if they do not. It my understanding that fire fighters are only asked to risk their lives if there are people in the building who need rescuing, otherwise the building is considered to be expendable. Makes good sense to me.
ray

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