Atherstone Trial
Detective defends detaining fire service managers

By Court Reporter 16/05 Updated: 18/05 07:22

THE DETECTIVE in charge of an inquiry into the Atherstone blaze has defended the decision to hold three fire service managers in custody overnight.

The trial of fire managers Paul Simmons, Timothy Woodward and Adrian Ashley, who deny four counts of manslaughter, continued at Stafford Crown Court this week.

John Averis, Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley died in the warehouse blaze in 2007, and Ian Reid died later in hospital.

Det Supt Ken Lawrence of Warwickshire Police denied it was overkill to hold Mr Simmons overnight.

Defending Mr Simmons, Neil Fitzgibbon, said his client had 27 years of service as a firefighter and had received medals for long service and good conduct.

The barrister asked Det Supt Lawrence if - with the benefit of hindsight - he thought it was overkill to hold Mr Simmons in custody overnight during two days of questioning.

But Det Supt Lawrence, who described the removal of items such as belts as standard procedure, said he did not.

He said the arrests of the three men at the same time were necessary for a 'prompt and effective' investigation of the blaze.

Det Supt Lawrence said the strategy for the arrests avoided the possibility of the suspects conferring with each other.

The Crown alleges Mr Woodward, Mr Simmons and Mr Ashley acted negligently during the fire in November 2007.

Earlier the trial heard from independent fire consultant, Dr Michael Dennett, who when questioned was unable to rule out the possibility the four firefighters who died 'simply got lost'.

Mr Fitzgibbon put it to Dr Dennett, the location of the bodies in relation to the remains of their hosereel suggested they may have got lost inside the fire area.

The court heard hosereels are vital in guiding a way out.

Mr Fitzgibbon put it to him that if a crew 'tragically just gets lost' you cannot plan for that and Dr Dennett again replied 'no'.

The court also heard venting the roof was discussed by Mr Simmons and other firefighters and the idea had been dismissed.

Mr Woodward, 51, from Leamington, Mr Simmons, 50, from Hampton Magna, and Mr Ashley, 45, from Nuneaton, are accused of gross negligence while working as incident commanders during the blaze.

Mr Simmons and Mr Ashley are also accused of breaching their duty of care to those who were killed by "exposing them to substantial risk to life when no other lives were at risk".

Mr Woodward is also 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.

The trial will resume on Monday.

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