Jury clears fire officer Paul Simmonds over Atherstone-on-Stour deaths

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A FIRE officer has been found not guilty of the manslaughter of four firefighters who died in a blaze in Warwickshire.

Paul Simmons, 50, was acquitted five weeks into his trial at Stafford Crown Court.

He was standing trial alongside two other men, Adrian Ashley and Timothy Woodward, who were incident commanders during a fire at a warehouse in Atherstone-on-Stour in November 2007.

Firefighters John Averis, Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley died in the fire while colleague Ian Reid, from Rugby, died later in hospital.

The judge, Mr Justice MacDuff, directed the jury to acquit Mr Simmons of their manslaughter at court yesterday (Monday).

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigade Union, said: “We note the verdict and will continue to monitor these legal proceedings. We will have further comment to make at the conclusion of the trial.

“As a watch manager, Paul Simmons is a frontline firefighter.

“He is not and never has been a senior officer, let alone a fire chief as sometimes reported.

“The threat of prosecution has been hanging over Paul since November 2007 when four of his fellow firefighters died at Atherstone on Stour.

“Paul Simmons and his family are greatly relieved at the ‘not guilty’ verdict. There are also the families of those who died and our thoughts remain with them as they continue to deal with their tragic loss.

“Those families, the colleagues of those who died, and firefighters and officers across the UK want to get to the bottom of what happened on that night. We all need to know what happened so that lessons can be learned and we can try to ensure such tragedies are avoided in the future.

“Criminal proceedings such as these may give some answers. But no matter what happens in this case as it proceeds, some of the detail necessary to fully learn lessons and avoid future tragedies may not form part of those proceedings.

“Our concern from other firefighter deaths in recent years is that lessons are not being fully learned or addressed. And that ‘old’ lessons we learned at great cost are being forgotten.

“Four firefighters died in tragic and terrible circumstances. We have a duty to the families of those who died, their colleagues and firefighter s across the UK - who are still going into burning buildings - to learn lessons and to make our work as safe as it can be in the very hazardous and hostile environments that we work in”.

The case continues against Ashley and Woodward who both deny manslaughter by gross negligence.