Fireworks factory pair charged over deaths

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The Independent Online

The owner of a fireworks factory where two firefighters died tackling an explosion was charged today with their manslaughter.

Martin Winter, 50, boss of East Sussex-based Alpha Fireworks Ltd, and his son Nathan Winter, 23, were each charged with two counts of manslaughter after being arrested in February.

Retained firefighter Geoff Wicker, 49, died alongside support officer Brian Wembridge, 63, in the blast at the site at Marlie Farm near Lewes, East Sussex, on December 3 2006.

The family-run company, which was known at the time as Festival Fireworks UK Ltd, is one of the biggest firework importers in the UK and was responsible for the Millennium display along the River Thames and the Lord Mayor's Show in London.

A Sussex Police spokesman said: "The Crown Prosecution Service has advised Sussex Police to charge Martin and Nathan Winter with the manslaughter of two fire crew, who died as a result of explosions and a blaze at a firework depot at Marlie Farm, near Ringmer, East Sussex, on December 3, 2006."

He added: "The company, now known as Alpha Fireworks Ltd, has been summonsed for breaches of the manufacture and storage of Explosive Regulations 2005."

Twelve other people were injured in the tragedy, including nine members of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, a Sussex Police sergeant and two members of the public.

The dead firemen, both long-serving stalwarts of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, were given full brigade honours at their funeral services attended by colleagues from across the UK.

Mr Wembridge, a married father of two sons, retired in 1994, completing his service as officer in charge at Lewes, before transferring to support services where his role included taking pictures at fire scenes for newspapers and broadcasters.

Mr Wicker, a married father of two teenage daughters, joined East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service in 1975 as a retained firefighter and during his time at Mayfield fire station rose to become officer in charge.

He transferred to Heathfield fire station in 1999 and became the officer in charge there too.

He joined the mobilising and communication centre in 1995 alongside his retained firefighter role and was promoted to watch manager in 2005.

Full inquests into their deaths have yet to be held as inquiries by Sussex Police and the Health and Safety Executive continue.

To mark the first anniversary of the tragedy, colleagues, including East Sussex chief fire officer Des Prichard, gathered outside fire service headquarters in Eastbourne where the union flag flew at half-mast.

Tributes were paid to the firemen, and a two-minute silence was observed at 2.42pm - the exact time of the incident.

Alpha Fireworks Ltd, which gained approval from Lewes District Council to rebuild on the site, closed as a mark of respect to the fallen firemen.

The two men were bailed to appear at Lewes Magistrates' Court on June 18.