Lewes fire death families in court battle

The Argus: Destruction at Marlie Farm – PA/Gareth Fuller Destruction at Marlie Farm – PA/Gareth Fuller

The families of two firefighters killed in a deadly fireworks blast are to take their battle for compensation to the courts.

Geoff Wicker and Brian Wembridge died in an explosion at Marlie Farm, near Lewes, six years ago.

A three week trial of the case against East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) starts today (February 25) at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

Also among the claimants are nine firefighters who were injured in the blast.

They are seeking millions of pounds in legal costs and compensation from both ESFRS and Martin Winter, the owner of the fireworks firm.

According to the injured firefighters, ESFRS sent them to the scene with no fireworks training and the wrong equipment.

They allege the service had “no proper plan” to deal with the fire and left the firemen exposed to “ultra-hazardous” danger.

And on the fateful day, the firemen claim, their radios were not working and they were not given evacuation whistles.

The families of the dead men are also suing ESFRS for damages – as well as Martin Winter.

Legal costs

In 2009, Mr Winter and his son Nathan were found guilty of gross negligence and manslaughter after a five-week trial at Lewes Crown Court. Investigators found the firework-packed metal container which exploded had been unlicensed for storage.

Their firm was convicted of two counts of health and safety breaches after the explosion, which injured 20 others. If Mr Winter loses the compensation battle, he could be liable for millions of pounds of legal costs and compensation alongside ESFRS.

Jim Parrott, the Fire Brigade Union’s executive council member for the South East, attended the blast at Marlie Farm.

He said: “ESFRA are guilty of sending their personnel to Marlie Farm ill-prepared and poorly resourced for dealing with fires involving fireworks. The deaths and injuries should not have happened.”

The union’s general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Six years is too long for the relatives of the dead firefighters to wait. They continue to pay the price for the authority’s failings.”

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