UNION bosses say they are “disgusted” that the families of two dead firefighters will be forced to wait another three months for the resolution of a long-running legal battle.
Fire Brigades Union bosses have announced that a Court of Appeal hearing into who was responsible for the deaths of Brian Wembridge and Geoff Wicker at a fireworks factory in 2006 has been delayed.
Union bosses said they were expecting a settlement pay-out by the end of the month but families were now being made to wait until October 27.
The delay means families will have waited more than a year after a High Court judge ruled in their favour that the deaths of the firefighters at Marlie Farm near Lewes in 2006 were “preventable”.
At the close of the original ten-day High Court hearing, Mr Justice Irwin ruled there was “inadequate training provision”, and that very few of the 50 firefighters scrambled to Marlie Farm were warned that the fireworks that ignited could be so volatile.
At the time, the ruling appeared to open the way for a multi-million settlement on behalf of the families.
An initial appeal application was dismissed by Mr Justice Irwin in October but insurers Zurich, acting on behalf of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, renewed an appeal application on duty of care grounds.
Jim Parrott, regional executive council member of the FBU, said: “We’re disgusted with it.
“We thought we were finally going to get the settlement at the end of this month.
“It’s galling that the service can have a plaque to Brian Wembridge and Geoff Wicker and pay their condolences every year and yet here we are still waiting for them to pay out compensation to their dependents and the injured parties.”
Mr Parrott added that the fire service’s grounds for appeal over whether they owe a duty of care to firefighters when they were responding to emergencies would have serious repercussions across the country.
An East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman said: “We are not making any statements at the moment, as this matter is in the hands of the legal teams for the insurers Zurich and the claimants to handle.”
In October last year, East Sussex chief fire officer Des Prichard claimed the decision to appeal the ruling was made by out-of-pocket insurers and not one made by the fire service.
A Zurich spokeswoman said: “The court has identified that the soonest most convenient date for all concerned is in October.”