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Businessman jailed for 10 years following deaths in fireworks blaze

14 June 2018

A STAFFORD businessman who was found guilty of manslaughter following the deaths of two men at his fireworks firm in 2014 has been jailed for 10 years.

Richard Pearson, aged 44, was found guilty of two counts of manslaughter by gross negligence on 22 May, following a five-week trial at Stafford Crown Court.
Sentencing, Judge Michael Chambers, said: "You've known your culpability from the start, but you have chosen to falsely blame others."

He added that Pearson had 'shown little remorse' and demonstrated 'arrogant recklessness' for the safety of others.
The court heard that emergency services had been called to SP Fireworks, in Tilcon Avenue, Baswich, following reports of a fire and a series of explosions early in the evening of 30 October 2014.

The intensity of the fire and continual explosion of fireworks was such that emergency services could not get inside and two men, Simon Hillier and Stewart Staples, were trapped inside. They died as a result of smoke inhalation, but Pearson, the owner of SP Fireworks, managed to get out.

Allan Compton, prosecuting, said Pearson was badly injured by the fire, but told a witness the premises were 'rammed with explosives.' He also told a paramedic: "I'm going to prison, there's going to be dead (people) in there because of me."

The court heard that Trading Standards had made checks of the premises in Tilcon Avenue, as well as a container Pearson used for storage at Lower Drayton Farm, Penkridge, on 16 October 2014.

On 27 October 2014, SP Fireworks took delivery of 1,141 boxes of fireworks and 18 boxes of mortars in a shipment from China.
Following the fire, on 10 November 2014, Trading Standards and Staffordshire Police visited the storage container at the farm again and found that 488 boxes could not be accounted for.

Mr Compton said the likelihood was that the vast majority of those fireworks were at the site in Baswich, breaching regulations for storage and safety.
Pearson, in his defence, said it was 'not true' that the 488 boxes had been at the premises in Tilcon Avenue and that stock had been sold to other customers.

He said that there were a number of factors that could've resulted in the explosion and said this could have been caused by faulty electrics, someone throwing a firework or a methane gas explosion.

Simon Hiller would help out at the premises, the court was told, while Stewart Staples was a customer visiting to buy fireworks for an evening display.

A friend of the defendant's, Jonathan Collins, told the court he had observed Mr Hillier using a knife to cut cable ties from a mortar rack to add an electrical fuse. He described the practice as 'dangerous' adding it should have been done outside as there was always a risk of a spark from the blade.

One witness described the resulting blaze and explosions as a fireworks display that lasted 40 minutes. The following day the bodies of Mr Hillier and Mr Staples were recovered.

Detective inspector Glyn Pattinson, of Staffordshire Police, who led the investigation, said: "We are glad that Richard Pearson has now been sentenced.

"During the lengthy investigation and throughout his trial Pearson attempted to offer alternative explanations for the fire which thankfully the jury did not accept. He always sought to blame others and never once took responsibility for his own actions or showed any remorse for what happened that evening.

"It is more than three years since this tragic incident took place and our first thoughts are for the families and friends of Mr Staples and Mr Hillier who lost their lives that day. We hope this brings some degree of closure for them."

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service director of response, and incident commander on this occasion, Tim Hyde, said: "Firstly, we would like to say our thoughts remain with the families of those who lost their lives in this tragic incident.

"We welcome the sentencing of Richard Pearson and although nothing can lessen the families' loss, we hope it brings some comfort to Stuart Staples and Simon Hillier's loved ones.

"This was an incredibly difficult incident to deal with; with an unknown amount of explosives stored at the site it was very dangerous for firefighters and nearby members of the public. The unpredictable nature of the fireworks meant the conditions were very hazardous and we were acutely aware there had been a similar incident elsewhere in the country where firefighters had lost their lives.

"Our crews worked relentlessly to extinguish the blaze and I can say on behalf of everyone that it was very harrowing knowing there were people believed to be inside the building.

"Following the fire we worked closely with colleagues from Staffordshire Police, supporting them with their difficult investigation into the circumstances of the fire."