Owner guilty of manslaughter over Stafford fireworks factory blaze
The owner of a fireworks firm in which two men perished in a catastrophic blaze has been found guilty of causing their deaths.
A jury took less than four hours to return unanimous manslaughter verdicts on businessman Richard Pearson who, by his own admission, had ‘rammed’ the premises in Baswich, near Stafford, with fireworks in the run-up to Bonfire Night.
Laboratory manager Stewart Staples, aged 57, who had called in only minutes earlier to buy fireworks for a party that night, died after becoming trapped in the blazing furnace along with employee Simon Hillier, 41, who had been preparing mortars for a display.
WATCH: Fireworks shoot out of factory fire
Judge Michael Chambers QC, said it was one of the most serious cases of gross negligence he had come across, adding Pearson ‘had sought to blame others, a very unattractive feature in this case’.
The 44-year-old businessman was found guilty following a five-week trial at Stafford Crown Court, which heard that an initial blast at SP Fireworks, on Tilcon Avenue industrial estate, set off a chain reaction of explosions, with fireballs sweeping through the unit, launching fireworks into the night.
The blaze was so fierce that it prevented rescue services reaching the victims, who were both from Hednesford.
More than 50 firefighters battled to contain the incident, and it is estimated there were £10,000 worth of fireworks inside at the time.
Pearson, who was himself injured in the fire on October 30, 2014, emerged from the building after unsuccessfully trying to rescue Mr Staples, who he had been serving at the time.
He told witnesses in the immediate aftermath that the premises were ‘rammed with explosives’.
He told paramedic Katherine Ellis: “I’m going to prison, there’s going to be dead people in there because of me.” Mr Allan Compton, prosecuting, said that Pearson’s comments that evening were tantamount to a confession of guilt.
Pearson, of Holyrood Close, Stafford, who denied manslaughter, tried to implicate Mr Hillier for the initial blast, claiming he had been working on homemade devices at the unit.
He also claimed someone had thrown a firework inside, leading police to arrest one of his van drivers seen running away from the burning building.
Both ‘theories’ were thrown out by experts.
A statement released on behalf of the Hillier family said: “It is hard to put into words how Simon’s death has affected us.
“As a small close-knit family it has left a massive hole in our lives and our lives will never be the same gain.
“Thomas misses his dad dearly and the memories that they shared were so short-lived.”
The Staples family also gave a statement after the verdict which read: “Stewart was a devout family man and a real gentleman respected by everyone he met.
“He was suddenly taken from his loving family on October 30 2014. It has been a long and difficult three-and-a-half years since his death and the case being brought to trial.
“These years have seen our family struggle with pain and grief over the loss of Stewart. We have got the right verdict.”
The court heard that the owner of a neighbouring clothing business, which was uninsured, had lost everything in the blaze.
Pearson was refused bail and will be sentenced on June 13.