Fireman Deaths Trial: Chiefs 'Were Negligent'

Three fire service managers have gone on trial accused of the manslaughter of four of their colleagues.

Station manager Timothy Woodward and watch managers Paul Simmons and Adrian Ashley deny causing the deaths of firefighters Ian Reid, John Averis, Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley in November 2007.

The prosecution told a jury at Stafford Crown Court that Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service responded to a call to a fire at a vegetable packing plant in Atherstone on Stour .

Factory staff were evacuated and everyone was accounted for. Command of the incident passed between all three defendants.

When firefighters arrived, two teams of four firefighters were sent into the building wearing breathing apparatus to put the fire out, but one firefighter, Ian Reid, became "detached" from his three colleagues.

When he was found by a rescue team he was "disorientated" and "panicked".

It was "smoky" and he rushed from his would-be rescuers to try and find a way out.

Richard Matthews QC said that, over 90 minutes, "successive" teams were sent in to locate Reid and the rest of his team but the operation was halted when the building became unstable.

The prosecution alleges that the three managers "badly failed to fulfill their duties to the firefighters under their command" and their actions amount to "gross negligence".

The four firefighters died when "no one was in peril, no one required rescue" and the situation should have been recognised as "obviously dangerous" and it had not been "properly assessed by those in command", Mr Matthews said.

This was not a case of the "irritating trivialities of health and safety red tape" but the "needless loss" of four lives, he said.

The court heard that it was an engineering manager for the Wealmoors plant who had discovered that a pallet packed with cardboard boxes, resting on a chipboard floor, was on fire. 

He used two extinguishers to put the fire out.

He left, and when he returned a short time later he found that it had reignited and it was too much for him and his colleagues to deal with so they called the fire brigade.

Firefighters sent in to tackle the blaze said there was "nil visibility", one described the heat being like an "oven".

Ian Reid was found, but attempts to resuscitate him weren't successful. The bodies of his three colleagues were recovered days later.

The trial is expected to last 10 weeks and continues on Monday.