Arsonists Who Started Deadly Fire Not Prosecuted, But The Crews Who Tried To Put It Out Were Pursued To The End
The Fire Brigades Union has hit out at police and prosecutors after the two remaining firefighters charged with gross negligence manslaughter were cleared by a jury at Stafford Crown Court. The union said it was absurd that the arsonists who started the fire have never faced trial, while those who struggled to put it out were relentlessly pursued by police and prosecutors.
The union said the entire fire service sympathised with those who had lost family members, friends and colleagues. The union would continue to support the families which had suffered loss at this tragic incident.
The union said a host of factors played a key role at the incident. It said significant questions remain to be answered by the planning authority and the owners of the building.
A lack of planning approval for the £6 million extension – the seat of the fire was on the first floor of the extension- or checks by the planning authority of the building;
The extension had a sprinkler system fitted but it was not linked to a water supply;
The extension had fire doors delivered, but these were not installed;
The first floor extension had no external fire exits which could have been used by firefighters.
The result of the lack of information to the fire authority from the planning authority or the owners resulted in:
There had been no familiarisation visits as the fire service had not been notified of changes to the building by the planning authority or the owners;
Fire crews who attended did not know how the building was constructed, nor did they have a floor plan.
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.
“The real criminals remain at large while innocent firefighters faced charges of killing their own colleagues. Police and prosecutors took the worse tragedy in the fire service for over forty years and turned it into a farce.
“There is still no justice for the families of the firefighters who died because the criminals who started the fire are still free. Many questions central to the safety of all firefighters remain unanswered.
“Every firefighter and officer at an incident does the best they can with the training, knowledge, equipment and personnel at the scene. Faced with an inferno they all do what they can, some of which is courageous and brave.
“This was a major employer with hundreds of employees and a major supplier of fresh fruit and vegetables to large numbers of supermarkets feeding millions of people. Firefighters are here to save property, jobs and businesses, not only to save lives and it was right to try and put the fire out.”
The union warned that the de-regulation of fire services had coincided with a rise in firefighters deaths in the line of duty. The end of national standards had brought a free for all in fire service provision, training and equipment.
The union said key documents which identified major new risks to firefighters as a result of this fire were seized by police and held for over three years. As a result, the distribution of safety critical information important to firefighters across the UK was delayed.
FBU executive council member Rose Jones said: “Firefighters and officers across the West Midlands have breathed a sigh of relief at the not guilty verdicts. No firefighter has ever been charged with the manslaughter of colleagues and we were all watching the trial with a great deal of concern.
“If the verdict had gone the other way then firefighters and officers would have been put in very vulnerable positions at emergency incidents. There is enough pressure to make good decisions rapidly without worrying if you are going to be arrested.”
Marcus Giles, FBU Warwickshire brigade secretary said: “Over £5 million of Warwickshire taxpayers money has been spent trying to jail firefighters for this tragedy. That money could have been invested in the service to deal with some of the lessons learned so that such a tragedy does not happen again.
“We are now working closely with the new management team in Warwickshire Fire Service to learn the lessons and improve safety for firefighters and the public. But there is no question some of our work has been delayed and hampered by the decision to prosecute those who tried their best to put the fire out.”
Helen Hague 07889 792360