Firefighters held liable for blunder

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The rescue services are not immune from being sued for negligence, the Court of Appeal decided yesterday in a ruling which could cost local authorities millions of pounds.

The appeal was brought by Hampshire County Council which paid pounds 16m compensation to Digital Equipment Limited at Basingstoke for a serious blunder by the county fire brigade. Called to a fire at the company's headquarters, firefighters turned off the sprinkler system and the building burned down.

The council appealed against the compensation, arguing that firefighters, like police, were always immune from negligence claims. But Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, sitting with Lords Justices Potter and Judge, held that, although a fire brigade was not under any common-law duty to answer a call, it could be sued if, on arrival, firefighters created a danger or made the situation worse. The council is to seek leave to appeal to the House of Lords.