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Atherstone fire victim's widow 'devastated' by verdicts

  • 5-31-2012

The widow of a firefighter who died after a warehouse blaze has said she is "devastated" two senior fire officers were cleared of his manslaughter.

Julie Reid's husband Ian and three other firefighters died after tackling the fire in Atherstone-on-Stour, Warwickshire, in 2007.

Incident commanders Timothy Woodward and Adrian Ashley were cleared on Wednesday over their deaths.

Fire service officer Paul Simmons was acquitted five weeks into the trial.

Mrs Reid, speaking at a press conference at Warwickshire Police's headquarters in Leek Wootton, said: "I'm devastated the jury returned a not guilty verdict in court but realise that I have to accept their decision.

'Questions unanswered'

"The three original defendants were portrayed as experienced firefighters and incident commanders and their crews defended them as so.

"If their crews were so confident in their abilities as incident commanders and were so confident of the decisions made on that fateful night, why then did those firefighters not have the courage of their convictions to tell it like it was that night when questioned by police or when taking the witness stand?

"Why would they not want to tell the truth about that night and why would the defendants not want to give their accounts?

"The incident commanders and Warwickshire firefighters should hang their heads in shame.

"All I ever wanted to know was what happened that night and have questions answered but I don't feel that that has happened.

"The jury could not find guilt in this case but if this case makes incident commanders take one extra minute to assess the situation presented when arriving at an incident, then that can only be for the good."

Mr Reid died in hospital after tackling the blaze while Ashley Stephens, John Averis and Darren Yates-Badley were killed in the warehouse.

'Where is daddy?'

Mr Stephens then fiancee, Emma Crocker, said: "He was the love of my life. We'd been together since I was 14 years old and we had so many dreams and hopes for the future.

"I get distraught when [her son George] asks me 'where is my daddy and when he is coming home?'

"It breaks my heart he has no memory of him.

"I know Ashley would be so proud of him, but he will never see him."

Ms Crocker thanked Warwickshire Police and said its investigation had provided some answers.

She said: "My relationship with firefighters now is non existent.

"The fire service was once my family but that has all finished now.

"They have damaged my life forever and damaged my boy's life forever."

Warwickshire's chief fire officer, Graeme Smith, had condemned the decision to press criminal charges against the three senior officers who he said had been "treated like common criminals".

But Det Sup Ken Lawrence, who led the Warwickshire Police investigation, defended the case.

He said: "We have a legal duty to investigate every death in whatever circumstances.

"Four firefighters lost their lives at work.

"They turned out one evening during the course of a job that they loved to do and... as a direct consequence, they lost their lives.

"So I would pose that question, how can anyone suggest that that doesn't warrant an investigation?"

In January Warwickshire County Council, which is responsible for the county's fire service, pleaded guilty at Wolverhampton Crown Court to a health and safety charge relating to the blaze.

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Reproduced under licence from BBC News © 2012 BBC


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