Fire officer acquitted over Atherstone 'relieved'

By Court Reporter 21/05 Updated: 21/05 15:16

Buy photos » Firefighters at the scene of the Atherstone tragedy. (s)

THE FAMILY of a fire service officer acquitted of the manslaughter of four colleagues in the Atherstone warehouse blaze say they are 'greatly relieved'.

Paul Simmons, 50, was found not guilty five weeks into his trial at Stafford Crown Court after the judge directed the jury to acquit him.

The case against two other men, Adrian Ashley and Timothy Woodward, continues. They were incident commanders at the time of fire, back in November 2007 and both deny manslaughter by gross negligence.

Firefighters Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley, from Alcester, and colleague John Averis died in the fire at the vegetable packing warehouse.

Ian Reid, 44, died later in hospital from smoke inhalation and suffocation.

Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union general secretary, said of the verdict: "The threat of prosecution has been hanging over Paul since November 2007 when four of his fellow firefighters died at Atherstone.

"Paul 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.

"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 trial continues in regards to the other two defendants.

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