£30,000 fine for Warwickshire County Council for Atherstone-on-Stour fire deaths

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WARWICKSHIRE County Council has been fined £30,000 over the deaths of four firefighters in a fire in Atherstone-on-Stour.

John Averis, 27, Ashley Stephens, 20 and Darren Yates-Badley, 24, died in the fire in November 2007.

A fourth firefighter, Ian Reid, 44, who was stationed at Rugby later died in hospital.

Warwickshire County Council pleaded guilty to a health and safety charge in January 2012. The authority was sentenced today (Friday) at the end of a week-long hearing at Stafford Crown Court.

Fining the county council £30,000 at Stafford Crown Court, Mr Justice Macduff described the deaths as a “dreadful accident”.

Mr Macduff said the fine given “in no way” summed up the cost of the four men’s lives but reflected deficiencies in record-keeping and information given to fire crews at the time.

He added the investigation had cost £5m in total and he had issued a £30,000 fine because he “didn’t want the public purse to suffer any more than it needed to.”

Mr Macduff also said he was satisfied the authority was now in “full and proper health”.

Speaking after the sentencing, Councillor Richard Hobbs, Portfolio Holder, Community Safety at Warwickshire County Council, said: “The Warwickshire Fire & Rescue Authority acknowledges today’s court findings.

“We pleaded guilty to the charge brought under the Health and Safety Act because we recognise and accepted that there were failings on our part back in 2007. We apologise for those failings.

“Since then, as the judge emphasised today, Warwickshire has become a model Fire Authority and are training some of the finest in the country.

“No fire service can guarantee that nothing will ever go wrong again but we are confident that our service is as safe as it can be.

“A set of exceptional adverse factors conspired to bring about this tragedy and no one person or body was responsible.

“The judge concluded that even if service failings contributed to the deaths at all, they were a minor factor and of little weight compared with all the other unfortunate and unforeseeable factors.

“I also welcome the fact that the judge went out of his way to exonerate our Incident Commanders in his judgement today.

“I want to finish by saying that we will always remember the bravery of those who died in the service of their community… and we offer our deepest condolences to their family and friends.”