Families of firefighters killed in fireworks explosion near Lewes win compensation battle (From The Argus)
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Families of firefighters killed in fireworks explosion near Lewes win compensation battle
The families of two firefighters killed in a fireworks blast won their long battle for compensation in the courts yesterday.
East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service faces a multimillion pound payout after a judge ruled the deaths of Brian Wembridge and Geoff Wicker were preventable.
The two veteran firefighters died in a massive explosion at Marlie Farm near Lewes in 2006.
Yesterday’s result means the families of the dead men are now free to pursue massive compensation claims – subject to an appeal from the fire service.
During the ten-day High Court hearing, Frank Burton QC, for Mr Wicker’s widow and four injured police officers, claimed there was “inadequate training provision”, and that very few of the 50 firemen scrambled to Marlie Farm were warned fireworks could be so volatile.
Three fire engines were initially sent to the scene at 1.49pm, where Nathan Winter allegedly told one firefighter to “run like f***” if the blaze spread to a metal container stuffed with fireworks.
Mr Wicker and Mr Wembridge were among those within the blast radius when the container exploded at around 2.42pm.
The judge said the unit commander may have wavered over evacuation because he still hoped water would be delivered to cool the container.
Although the incident commander had eventually reached the “right decision”, he had failed to “follow it through”, said the judge, who added that there had been a “fatal ambiguity” in the commander’s mind.
Brian Wembridge, 63, and Geoff Wicker, 49
And he rejected claims that Mr Wembridge – a fire service cameraman – was himself at fault for getting too close to the blaze.
The familiies of Mr Wicker and Mr Wembridge had already secured judgments against the occupier of Marlie Farm, Martin Winter, who operated a fireworks business from the site.
But Mr Winter has “insufficient assets” to meet any compensation claim, the judge said.
Jim Parrott, the Fire Brigade Union’s executive council member for the south east, attended the blast at Marlie Farm.
He said: “This is justice for the families. That day was a failure of the organisation.
“Our overall view is that the fire service still hasn’t learned from its mistakes, even though this happened nearly seven years ago.
“The most worrying thing is that this could certainly happen again.”
Des Prichard, chief fire officer at East Sussex Fire and Rescue, said: “It is only right that we give due consideration to the careful thoughts of the judge.
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