Wednesday 6 June 2012

No-One's A Winner Here...

Police have been accused of wasting £5million prosecuting senior firemen over the deaths of four colleagues in a warehouse blaze – while failing to catch the arsonists who set the building alight.
A jury yesterday threw out the case against Timothy Woodward and Adrian Ashley, who were accused of manslaughter through gross negligence in their handling of the fire in 2007.
Do the police regard this as an expensive mistake? Reader, they do not...
The police officer in charge of the inquiry, Detective Superintendent Ken Lawrence, insisted the investigation was justified and said he hoped the fire service had learned lessons from the tragedy.
Which is pretty difficult to do, when your men have snaffled the reports into the incident as evidence, isn't it?
There were two independent reports into the blaze, one commissioned by the police and another commissioned by the Warwickshire Fire Service, which was seized by the police before Warwickshire Fire Service had a chance to consider it.
Whoops! Warwickshire Chief Fire Officer Graeme Smith was a little unhappy with that, as well he might be:
He added: 'Both of these reports contained safety critical information of vital importance to the safety of firefighters up and down the country.
'Neither of them was released to the fire service until May 2011 - an incredible three-and-a-half years after the fire.
'I am outraged that the secrecy surrounding these reports meant that firefighters remained at risk for so long.'
Well, quite. The police can't even fall back on the old chestnut of 'We did this to provide closure for the families', because they aren't too happy at this turn of events either.
The families of three firemen killed in a warehouse blaze have called a chief fire officer 'hypocritical', 'arrogant' and 'small minded' after he welcomed the acquittal of three long-serving firefighters who had been charged with manslaughter over the tragedy.
It seems no-one explained the adversarial nature of legal proceedings to them:
Paul Stephens, the firefighter father of Ashley Stephens, was present at the blaze that killed his son. In a statement read on his behalf by a police liaison officer, he said: ... 'Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service gave us unlimited support up until the charges were brought against three of their officers. After that it seemed we were on the wrong side and support dwindled down to nothing.'
Well, that's the court process for you - you were 'on the wrong side' (technically) and no doubt the Fire Brigade couldn't risk someone saying something that might have jeopardised the trial.

But just why did this case get pursued so rigorously? It seems that'll forever remain a mystery, while everyone involved blames everyone else and no-one wants to ask the most important question; do we want emergency services to accept risk (albeit kept to a minimum possible) as part of the job, or do we want the God of H&S to reign supreme?


Tatty said...

"But just why did this case get pursued so rigorously?

I think the question should be why others don't. Four people died and no one is above investigation, or should be.

Nothing illegal was found to have happened in this case but it could have gone the other way. That said, criminal charges should have only been brought after a full inquiry.

Taxpayers paid twice over for the same result.

A salt and battered said...

Don't quote me but I heard it was all started by one of those heated Masonic grievances on Partner Swap Night.

Anonymous said...

as long as lessons were learned......................

James Higham said...

Went right over my head, this one.

Jiks said...

"...or do we want the God of H&S to reign supreme?"

Well, we know what THEY want!

*typing whilst looking over his shoulder*

Sgt Albert Hall said...

Still not sure why firefighters entered a burning building after it was known that it had been evacuated.

Sgt Albert Hall said...

Still not sure why firefighters entered a burning building after it was known that it had been evacuated.

blueknight said...

An investigation fair enough, but CPS should have stopped it going to Court.

Anonymous said...

It will teach firemen to stay well away from fire though.

JuliaM said...

"Four people died and no one is above investigation.."

This wasn't an accident, though. It was a known risk of their job.

"Still not sure why firefighters entered a burning building after it was known that it had been evacuated."

Perhaps because, given the foreign nature of the known - or suspected - 'inhabitants', that couldn't be clearly ascertained?

"An investigation fair enough, but CPS should have stopped it going to Court."

Yes indeed. Or do we want firemen to regard fire as 'something we shouldn't go near'?

David Gillies said...

It's actually pretty rare for firemen to die in the course of their duty. So rare, in fact, that when something like this happens we don't chalk it down as "terribly sad and all that, risks of the job, dontcherknow" but blow it up into some huge circus. If mistakes were made, then policy needs to change to reflect that, but pursuing litigation is likely to throw the baby out with the bathwater. How long before someone dies trapped in a burning building because the fire brigade was too chary of sending people in in case they got sued later? Really it's all part of the toxic idea that any time something bad happens there is a culprit who can be mulcted for compensation.