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'I tried to save victim' – Stafford factory boss tells of fireworks blaze

By Marion Brennan | Stafford | Crime | Published:

The boss of a fireworks factory where two men perished in a blaze broke down as he told a jury how he tried to drag one of the victims from the flaming 'furnace' but was forced to give up because of his own horrific injuries.

Richard Pearson

Richard Pearson was trapped inside SP Fireworks with customer Stuart Staples and employee Simon Hillier after a huge fireball came 'from nowhere' and enveloped the building.

Taking the stand for the first time in the month-long trial, he described seeing 'somebody flying across the room in front of me', believed to have been 41-year-old Mr Hillier who was working at the premises in Baswich, near Stafford, that day.

Pearson, 44, who had been knocked off his feet by the blast, wept as he recalled trying to save father-of-three Mr Staples, whom he was serving at the counter just before the explosion.

Victim - customer Stuart Staples, who was 57, and employee Simon Hillier, aged 41

"I knew it was only a few metres to the front door and I tried my best to get him out with me. At first I didn't think I was that badly burned but all the skin on my hands came off.

"I couldn't grab anything and had no power left in my hands," Pearson told the jury.

By the time he managed to exit the building, the top half of his body and his left leg were on fire.

He was inside the burning building for three minutes, for part of that time trapped by fallen debris.

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The business unit, comprising a shop area and storage room, was destroyed in the blaze which started just after 5.15pm on October 30, 2014.

So fierce were the flames that the bodies of the victims, both from Hednesford, could not be recovered until the following day.

Pearson told Stafford Crown Court he had been due to pick up his children from school at 5.15pm and was trying to close the shop when the fire started, setting off fireworks through doors, windows and into the night sky.

The prosecution alleges he had stored more than the legal maximum of 250kg of fireworks inside and they were packed too closely together, against safety regulations.

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Describing the moment the explosion occurred, Pearson said: "From nowhere there was a huge fireball with a massive whoosh of air.

"It whooshed around the shop, a massive flash with orange flames.

"The air was so intense it was like being in a tunnel with a train coming, like a hurricane wind had come blasting through.

"Papers were everywhere, it was pitch black, there was a lot of smoke. I had never experienced anything like it."

Pearson, of Holyrood Close, Stafford, denies two counts of manslaughter by gross negligence in failing to take reasonable care in the storing and handling of explosives.

The trial continues.

Marion Brennan

By Marion Brennan
@Marion_EStar

News and features reporter, specialising in human interest and local history stories.

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