A night of gunpowder, Whitehall failure and rant

Deregulation blamed for Chinese-made peril

The number of injuries caused by fireworks has rocketed since controls on imports were lifted in 1993, because deadly "bomb" fireworks from China are not being tested properly, safety campaigners and manufacturers said yesterday.

They said the Government had shrugged off warnings of increased danger to the public, and had ignored advice on how to keep the import and testing licensing regime introduced for fireworks in 1989.

Following the revelation that that two deaths at the weekend were caused by Chinese-made fireworks, safety campaigners said dangerous and sub- standard devices from the Far East were putting lives at risk. They feared that the death toll from fireworks could be even higher after Bonfire Night tonight.

Nigel Griffiths, Labour consumer affairs spokesman, said deregulation had "compromised public safety" and called for a closer monitoring of imports: "Against the advice of safety experts, the firework industry and Trading Standards Officers, the Department of Trade and Industry swept away import rules that required specific licences for imported fireworks," he said.

"Injuries immediately reach- ed levels not seen in the UK for over 20 years. There must now be much closer monitoring of imports so there is complete accountability for all fireworks."

The Government said yesterday that European legislation on free trade had forced the removal in January 1993 of the import licence system - in which companies had to provide full details of any shipments to the Health and Safety Executive, which was responsible for testing that imports met BS7714, covering construction, composition and labelling.

David Hattersley, the headmaster who died, was killed by a firework with no make or brand name. Steve Timcke, a 34-year-old city trader, was killed by a firework with instructions in Chinese only.

Mel Barker, managing director of Standard Fireworks: "I went to see the minister in 1992 to say we thought [deregulation] was a retrograde step . . . I said `Don't call it an import licence. Call it a safety licence. Call it what you want, but don't take away this vital piece of information.' Their reaction was they couldn't do it . . . Yes, we foresaw these problems."

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