Chiefs 'exposed firemen to danger'
Four firefighters lost their lives inside a blazing warehouse after being sent into "an obviously dangerous situation" for no good reason, a jury has been told.
Stafford Crown Court heard that the four-man team, all wearing breathing apparatus, died in 2007 after being ordered into the smoke-filled vegetable packing plant, which had already been evacuated.
Opening the Crown's case against three fire service managers accused of four counts of manslaughter, prosecutor Richard Matthews QC alleged that no-one was in danger when crews were sent into the warehouse in Atherstone-on-Stour, Warwickshire, on the evening of November 2 2007.
After explaining to the jury that command of the incident passed between station manager Timothy Woodward and watch managers Paul Simmons and Adrian Ashley, Mr Matthews told the jury: "It's the prosecution's case that each of these defendants so badly failed to fulfil their duties to the firefighters under their command that their actions amount to what lawyers call gross negligence.
"It's the prosecution's case that the failings of each of the three defendants were a cause of the deaths of those four firefighters."
Firefighters Ashley Stephens, Darren Yates-Badley, John Averis and Ian Reid, known by the radio call sign Red 1, lost their lives "not in a valiant effort to rescue anyone" but having been ordered into a storage compartment containing cardboard boxes, labels and some old furniture, Mr Matthews claimed.
The lawyer told jurors: "This is not a case about what some people see as the irritating trivialities of health and safety red tape. This is not about stopping the heroic members of our emergency services from risking their lives, and the lives of those who may be under their command, to save others.
"Rather, it's only about the needless loss of four lives, four individuals, lost as a result of having been sent into a situation where no-one was in peril... sent into what was and should have been recognised as an obviously dangerous situation for no good reason."
Simmons, 51, from Hampton Magna, Warwickshire, Ashley, 45, from Nuneaton, and Woodward, 50, from Leamington Spa, each deny four separate counts of manslaughter. All the charges against the defendants allege that they unlawfully killed the men who died "by gross negligence" while acting as incident commanders.
The indictment further alleges that Simmons and Ashley breached their duty of care to those who were killed by "exposing them to substantial risk to life when no other lives were at risk". Woodward is alleged to have breached his duty of care to the deceased by failing to end the deployment of colleagues wearing breathing apparatus for the purpose of "offensive" firefighting.