By Brett Gibbons
The Birmingham Mail
WARWICKSHIRE COUNTY, England — A local authority has been fined £30,000 for health and safety failures linked to a Midland warehouse blaze in which four firefighters died.
Mr Justice MacDuff said the fine imposed on Warwickshire County Council reflected deficiencies in record-keeping and information given to fire crews at the time of the tragedy in November 2007.
During his sentencing remarks at Stafford Crown Court, the judge described the deaths in Atherstone-on-Stour as a "dreadful accident" caused by a series of mishaps and failures which occurred together.
The county council, which employed the firefighters, pleaded guilty in January to a charge brought under the Health and Safety at Work Act, following a criminal inquiry into the blaze at the vegetable packing plant.
Although the council admitted the allegation on a limited basis, the charge stated that it had failed to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees.
Three fire service incident commanders also prosecuted in connection with the death were acquitted of four counts of manslaughter at the same court earlier this year.
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. Passing sentence on the county council, Mr Justice MacDuff was critical of aspects of the case against the three incident commanders and said the accident was caused by a series of mishaps.
Ruling that senior fire officers had been correct to send crews wearing breathing apparatus into the warehouse, the judge described parts of the prosecution case — including a claim that the incident commanders had behaved like First World War generals — as "unacceptable."
Warwickshire's community safety spokesman, Coun Richard Hobbs, paid tribute to the men and offered condolences to their families.
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