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Stafford businessman jailed for 10 years over firework deaths

Simon Hillier and Stewart Staples

A Stafford businessman has been jailed after a blaze at his fireworks firm led to the deaths of two men.

41-year-old Simon Hillier, who was working at SP Fireworks, in Tilcon Avenue, Baswich, and Stewart Staples, aged 57, died following the fire on 30 October 2014.

During a five week trial, Stafford Crown Court heard emergency services were called to the site owned by 44-year-old Richard Pearson, following reports of a fire and a series of explosions, with the intensity of the fire and continual explosion of fireworks was such that emergency services could not get inside. 

Mr Hillier and Mr Staples were trapped inside and died as a result of smoke inhalation.

Their bodies were not found until the next day.

Pearson reportedly told a witness the premises were ‘rammed with explosives’, and during the trial a Health and Safety Executive inspector said they believed up to 10 times the permitted amount of fireworks were being stored at the site.

In his defence, Pearson said it was ‘not true’ that the 488 boxes had been at the premises 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. 

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. 

Pearson was found guilty of two counts of manslaughter by gross negligence. 

Sentencing him to 10 years behind bars today, 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.

Pearson was sentenced at Stafford Crown Court following a five week trial 

Detective Inspector Glyn Pattinson, of Staffordshire Police, who led the investigation, said: “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.

“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."

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service Director of Response, and Incident Commander on this occasion, Tim Hyde, said: “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. "

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