Jury in fireworks trial due to be sent out

By Marion Brennan | Stafford | Crime | Published:

The jury in the trial of a fireworks company owner charged with causing the deaths of two men in a blaze at his premises was today due to be sent out to consider its verdict.

Stafford Crown Court

Judge Michael Chambers, QC, started his summing up of the case against 44-year-old Richard Pearson, boss of Stafford-based SP Fireworks, yesterday, highlighting the major issues covered by the four-week trial.

At the heart of the case is the quantity of fireworks that were held at the shop in Tilcon Avenue, Baswich, at the time of the explosion on October 30, 2014, which the trial has heard may have been 10 or even 20 times that permitted by his licence.

The prosecution alleges that he had transferred too many rockets, aerial shells and other fireworks from a large shipping container in Penkridge to the Baswich shop ready for sale and distribution in the run-up to Bonfire Night and Diwali.

Pearson has argued the terms of his licence allowed him to temporarily store extra fireworks at Tilcon Avenue for up to 24 hours and that he was acting legitimately.

Yesterday Judge Chambers, the Recorder of Stafford, reminded the jury that the actions of employee Simon Hillier, one of the victims, was crucial to their deliberations. The jury needed to decide what Mr Hillier, 37, was doing just prior to the initial blast.

The judge recalled evidence from van driver John Collins who said he saw Mr Hillier in the conservatory at the back of the shop preparing to re-wire mortars for a firework display, and quoted Mr Collins as saying it was a process that required care because of the danger from a build-up of static electricity.

The driver had been loading his vehicle when he heard a ‘crackle, thump and bang’ sound and saw what looked like a big firework going off in the shop, and fled in his van. Within minutes the warehouse was ablaze with fireworks coming out of the roof, doors and windows.

More than 50 fire fighters battled to contain the incident but a series of high-intensity explosions prevented the emergency services from rescuing Mr Hillier and customer Stuart Staples, a 57-year-old laboratory manager for Staffordshire County Council, who had been in the shop less than 10 minutes. The two men, both from Hednesford, died from smoke inhalation.

It is the prosecution case that boxes of fireworks were packed too closely together at Tilicon Avenue and that inadequate controls were in place to prevent the spread of any fire. The jury has also heard that instead of being stored in detached premises to further delay the escalation of a blaze, the premises were joined to two other units like a row of terraced houses.

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.

Marion Brennan

By Marion Brennan

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

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