By Matthew Cooper
The Press Association Mediapoint
WARWICKSHIRE COUNTY, England — A local authority will be sentenced today for health and safety breaches linked to a warehouse blaze which claimed the lives of four firefighters.
Warwickshire County Council pleaded guilty in January this year to a charge brought under the Health and Safety at Work Act following an inquiry into the fire in Atherstone-on-Stour in 2007.
Although the council pleaded guilty on a limited basis, the charge alleged that it had failed to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees contrary to Section 2 of the Act.
Today's sentencing at Stafford Crown Court comes seven months after three fire service managers were cleared of manslaughter at the same court in relation to the blaze at a vegetable packing plant.
A jury cleared Adrian Ashley, 45, and 51-year-old Timothy 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.
A third defendant, 50-year-old Watch Manager Paul Simmons, was acquitted of manslaughter on the directions of the judge part-way through the trial.
The decision to prosecute the senior firefighters was criticised immediately after the trial by Chief Fire Officer Graeme Smith, the head of Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, who claimed the defendants had been ``treated like common criminals''.
The inquiry into the blaze is estimated to have cost around £4.6 million, with much of the bill incurred during efforts to recover evidence from the scene of the tragedy.
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