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Firefighting News Stories

Source:  Mail News
By:  Emily Allen
May 31, 2012
    Anger of dead firefighters' families at chief officer who attacked decision to charge managers with their manslaughter
    Four firefighters died tackling blaze in Warwickshire in 2007
    Families call fire chief 'hypocritical, arrogant and small minded'
    He welcomes acquittal of three firefighters charged with manslaughter
    Graeme Smith said accused were shown 'undue aggression' in custody.

    The families of three firemen killed in a warehouse blaze have called a chief fire officer 'hypocritical', 'arrogant' and 'small minded' after he welcomed the acquittal of three long-serving firefighters who had been charged with manslaughter over the tragedy.

    Graeme Smith, the head of Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, claimed Adrian Ashley, Paul Simmons and Timothy Woodward had been treated like common criminals' in the wake of the fatal fire at Atherstone-on-Stour in 2007.

    Jurors at Stafford Crown Court yesterday cleared watch manager Ashley, 45, and 51-year-old station manager Woodward of gross negligence manslaughter after hearing six weeks of evidence about the deaths of Ashley Stephens, Darren Yates-Badley, John Averis and Ian Reid.

    Watch manager Simmons, 50, was acquitted of the same charge on the directions of the judge part-way through the trial.

    Police never found the criminals who started the fire and £4.7million has been spent over five years trying to pin blame for the losses on the managers who let the firemen enter the building even though all employees had already been accounted for.

    Speaking after the verdicts, Mr Smith said it was 'crystal clear' that the case should not have been brought to court and called for an investigation into why the three men were prosecuted.

    But at a press conference in Warwickshire today, relatives of Mr Stephens, Mr Reid and Mr Yates-Badley said they had been let down by Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service following the fire at a vegetable packing plant on November 2.

    The family of Mr Averis were present but decided not to speak.

    Ian Reidís widow Julie said she had been devastated by the not guilty verdicts, adding: 'Why does Warwickshire chief fire officer Smith think this case should not have gone to court? Does he not think that where the evidence is there, action should be taken?

    Is he really that arrogant and small minded to think that firefighters are above the law?

    We are all accountable for our actions, even the police. No one is above the law.

    We have a legal process in this country and if the police suspect a crime has been committed they are duty bound to investigate and pass their findings to the Crown Prosecution Service.

    The legal process will determine whether charges should be brought, not the profession of an individual. The jury could not find guilt in this case. But if this case makes incident commanders take one extra minute to assess the situation presented on arriving at an incident then that can only be for the good.

    A firefighterís life is not worth less than that of a member of the public and it most certainly is not worth a pallet of packing material.'

    Mrs Reid, who described the fire service as a 'sleepy hollow', added: I do acknowledge that the defendants and their families have had a difficult year with this hanging over their heads but it is nothing compared to the heartache that Sophie (the coupleís daughter) and I have suffered for four and a half years.

    I lost my husband, who I loved very much, and Sophie lost the dad she adored. Our heartache and loss is permanent.'

    Paul Stephens, the firefighter father of Ashley Stephens, was present at the blaze that killed his son.

    In a statement read on his behalf by a police liaison officer, he said: 'As his father, and at the time a serving firefighter being present at the incident, having witnessed the horrendous scene on that night has left me with images that will stay with me forever - images so strong I have not been able to attend the court hearing.

    The loss of Ashley has left such a big hole in our hearts that it is impossible to mend.

    Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service gave us unlimited support up until the charges were brought against three of their officers. After that it seemed we were on the wrong side and support dwindled down to nothing.

    To hear the Chief Fire Officer speak to the press saying their thoughts were with the families was very hypocritical as the only family support shown has been to the defendantsí families.

    Ashley loved being part of the fire service and wanted to become a full-time firefighter. It seems so unjust that the full- time officers he would have looked up to have let him down so badly.'

    Mandy Baylis, the mother of Darren Yates-Badley, said: 'That night will haunt me forever.

    I never thought I would feel so let down by the fire service. They talk about brothers in arms and one big family. This is not true in our case.

    Family and friends of Alcester Fire Station, which we have been part of for 25 years, have crossed over the street rather than speak to us.

    Itís as if weíve done something wrong. All we did is lose Darren in the most impossible way. Not to be able to say goodbye... Darren didnít deserve that.'

    Addressing the media at the end of the trial, Chief Fire Officer Mr Smith said: 'It is crystal clear that these cases should never have been brought to court.

    The police investigation into this fire took a wrong turn early on

    The police treated decent fire officers like common criminals and the arsonist who started this fire has got away with it.

    It has taken almost five years and £5million of public money to construct a case against these three men and when it was presented in court it simply fell apart.'

    During two days in the custody of Warwickshire Police, Mr Simmons, Mr Ashley, and Mr Woodward had their belts and shoelaces taken away and were also held at a police station overnight between interviews.

    Mr Smith said Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service and the Chief Fire Officersí Association intended to write to the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary to seek a formal investigation why the firefighters were charged.

    After yesterday's verdicts, critics said firemen may now hesitate before trying to save lives for fear they could be arrested.

    The police officer in charge of the inquiry, Detective Superintendent Ken Lawrence, insisted the investigation was justified and said he hoped the fire service had learned lessons from the tragedy.

    The union said it was absurd that the arsonists who started the blaze had never faced trial, while those who struggled to put it out were relentlessly pursued' by police and the CPS.

    FBU assistant general secretary Andy Dark said: 'This was the first time firefighters at an incident were accused of the manslaughter of their colleagues.

    This prosecution cast a shadow across the whole fire service and caused anger and concern.

    We are relieved at the not-guilty verdicts but firefighters are furious at the police and prosecutors.

    The criminals who started the fire are still free, but those who tried to put the fire out were arrested, charged and brought to trial.