Warwickshire County Council in court over Atherstone-on-Stour fatal fire

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WARWICKSHIRE Fire and Rescue failed to protect four firefighters who died at a fire in Atherstone-on-Stour, a court has heard.

The firefighters died as they tackled a blaze at a vegetable packing plant in November 2007.

Warwickshire County Council pleaded guilty to a health and safety charge in January 2012. The authority is due to be sentenced at the end of a week-long hearing this week at Stafford Crown Court.

The prosecution said the fire service had several failings, including the distribution of information about buildings and water supplies and also the training of firefighters. The bodies of John Averis, 27, Ashley Stephens, 20, and Darren Yates-Badley, 24, were recovered from the burnt warehouse in November 2007. A fourth firefighter, Ian Reid, 44, who was stationed at Rugby, later died in hospital. Three senior fire officers were acquitted of their manslaughter in May.

Defending, Ben Compton QC said the Atherstone fire marked the “darkest year” for firefighters in the last 30 years and had left families and colleagues filled with “grief and emptiness”. He added that the fire and rescue service accept that it should be held to account on a “fair and realistic basis”. The hearing is expected to last until Friday.