Were these trials a waste of public money or were the H&S Executive correct to prosecute? My own feelings are that had these prosecutions been successful, firefighting as we know it would have ceased to exist. Hopefully OIC'c can now do their jobs without the fear of prosecution but always with thesafety of his crew/s in mind.
The two remaining defendants in the Atherstone-on-Stour manslaughter case have been acquitted of all charges.
Station manager Timothy Woodward and watch manger Adrian Ashley were found not guilty by a jury at Stafford Crown Court today.
A third defendant, watch manger Paul Simmons, was acquitted earlier in the trial at the direction of the judge.
The three fire officers had denied manslaughter by gross negligence.
Firefighters John Averis, Ashley Stephens, Darren Yates-Badley and Ian Reid died as a result of the 2007 blaze at a vegetable packing warehouse in Atherstone-on-Stour.
Graeme Smith, chief fire officer for Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, criticised the decision to prosecute the officers. “I am very pleased that the case against our three incident commanders has so comprehensively collapsed. I expected nothing less. It is now clear that these cases should never have been brought to court. I am relieved that their ordeal is over but I also feel a sense of sorrow and remembrance for the four brave firefighters who died at Atherstone-on-Stour in 2007. We will now be seeking assurances from ministers that prosecutions like this never happen again.”
Mr Smith added: “There is clear evidence that the Atherstone fire was arson. The police clearly thought it was because in 2009 they arrested several people on suspicion of arson. And during this court hearing we have discovered that the independent report into the cause of the Atherstone fire also concluded that it was arson. So why have the arsonists not been apprehended? And why instead did three innocent fire officers find themselves in the dock of a British court?
“Something went badly wrong with this case. It’s time for some answers. I want some answers, the three incident commanders want some answers and the families of those who died deserve some answers too,” said Mr Smith.
President of the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA), Lee Howell, said:
"CFOA believes that the court has made the right decision and this is the best possible outcome for our profession as a whole. We lost four brave firefighters almost five years ago in one tragic incident and our thoughts remain with the families and friends of our fallen colleagues.
“We remain keen to understand the rationale behind the decision to take this prosecution and we question the length of time it took to come to trial. Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service and CFOA will be writing to the government to seek a review on why this case came to court in the first place. We would also seek to understand why the real culprits, according to the cause of [the] fire investigation – the person or persons who intentionally set the fire in the first place – have not been apprehended."
Mr Howell continued: "The outcomes of this investigation now need to be shared with fire and rescue services across the country, because it is their officers who, every day, are required to manage the potential conflict between public expectation and firefighter safety.”