Payout at last for fireworks deaths


Published: Tuesday 30th December 2014 by The News Editor

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The families of two firefighters who were killed in a massive explosion at a fireworks factory eight years ago are finally to receive compensation.

Retained firefighter Geoff Wicker, 49, and support officer Brian Wembridge, 63, died in the blast at Marlie Farm in Shortgate, near Lewes, East Sussex, on December 3 2006.

As well as killing the two firemen, both long-serving members of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, the blast injured scores of other people, mostly police and fire officers.

At the High Court in London in July 2013, Mr Justice Irwin said after analysing evidence that the families were entitled to damages from the fire service.

But Zurich, the insurer for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, decided to appeal against the judgment – a move condemned by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) as prolonging the pain for the families.

Now it has been announced that the appeal has been dropped, paving the way for relatives to finally receive compensation for the tragedy.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said it was a “scandal” that it has taken so long for the ruling of the High Court judge to be honoured.

He said: “Those responsible for these outrageous decisions should hang their heads in shame for prolonging this painful process.

“Geoff and Brian died in the line of duty serving the public. We have a duty to make sure their families are looked after and that justice is done.”

Phil Howson, chairman of East Sussex Fire Authority, said: “The decision to appeal the original July 2013 ruling was made by our insurers and we were bound by that decision.

“We hope that now the settlement of the individual claims can be progressed by the insurers and that this development will now draw this matter to a conclusion for all concerned.”

In December 2009, Martin Winter, who ran a fireworks firm at the site, and his son, Nathan Winter, were convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence following a trial at Lewes Crown Court.

They were found to be grossly negligent through knowing that an unlicensed metal container packed with fireworks could explode if a blaze broke out.

In his judgment in 2013, Mr Justice Irwin concluded that the fire service had also been negligent.

“East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service was at fault in not recognising fully the risks of fireworks stored in bulk, and particularly in containment. This constituted negligence,” said the judge.

As the Winters’ insurance was invalid because of the illegal storage of fireworks at the farm, victims of the tragedy were forced to seek compensation elsewhere, fire bosses said.

East Sussex Chief Fire Officer and chief executive Des Prichard said: “Geoff Wicker and Brian Wembridge were well-respected colleagues and are still missed by those who knew them.

“We continue to remember their dedication to serving our community. We have learnt lessons from what happened at Marlie Farm.

“A full investigation took place immediately afterwards and we have brought in many changes not only to the way we work, but to the way fire services across the UK and internationally work.

“We remain committed to ensuring our firefighters are as safe as they can possible be when they are called out to emergencies.”

Published: Tuesday 30th December 2014 by The News Editor

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