UK Officer Cleared in Deaths of Four Firefighters

A fire service manager accused of the manslaughter of four firefighters killed in a warehouse in a Warwickshire blaze has been found not guilty after a judge directed a jury to acquit him.

Watch manager Paul Simmons, from Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, was standing trial at Stafford Crown Court alongside Adrian Ashley, also a watch manager, and station manager Timothy Woodward.

A court official said Mr Justice MacDuff told jurors there was no case to answer for Mr Simmons, 50, who had faced four counts of gross negligence manslaughter.

He was charged after firefighters Ashley Stephens, Darren Yates-Badley and John Averis died in a vegetable packing plant in Atherstone-on-Stour on the evening of November 2 2007. Ian Reid died later in hospital.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said Mr Simmons, from Hampton Magna, Warwickshire, and his family were ``greatly relieved'' by the verdict.

The trial of Ashley, 45, and Woodward, 51, who both deny four counts of manslaughter, will continue and is expected to last another two weeks.

The prosecution alleges that Mr Stephens, 20, Mr Yates-Badley, 24, Mr Averis, 27, and 44-year-old Mr Reid lost their lives needlessly after being sent into an obviously dangerous situation for no good reason, after the building had been evacuated.

The charges against Ashley, from Nuneaton, and Woodward, from Leamington Spa, allege that they unlawfully killed the men who died ``by gross negligence'' while acting as incident commanders.

The indictment further alleges that Ashley breached his duty of care to those who were killed by ``exposing them to substantial risk to life when no other lives were at risk''.

Woodward is alleged to have breached his duty of care to the four by failing to end the deployment of colleagues wearing breathing apparatus for the purpose of ``offensive'' firefighting.