Jury considers verdict in fireworks factory case

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The Independent Online

A jury trying a father and his son over the deaths of two firemen following a massive explosion at a fireworks factory retired to consider its verdicts today.

Retained firefighter Geoff Wicker, 49, and support officer Brian Wembridge, 63, were killed in the blast at Festival Fireworks UK Ltd at Marlie Farm in Shortgate, near Lewes, East Sussex, on December 3, 2006.

Jurors at Lewes Crown Court have heard that a metal container illegally packed with fireworks capable of causing a mass explosion went off "like a bomb", hurling fragments far and wide.

As well as killing the two firemen, both long-serving members of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, the blast injured 20 other people, mostly police and fire officers.

It is alleged that the potential for a mass explosion was obvious to Martin Winter, 52, the owner of the company, now called Alpha Fireworks Ltd, and his son and employee, Nathan Winter, 25.

Prosecutors claim the Winters were both familiar with the different hazard classifications given to fireworks and their potential for mass explosion in a confined steel container.

It is also alleged that both men were familiar with the licence and its obligations about how and what could be stored, and how fireworks should be handled.

The Winters, who live on Marlie Farm, both deny two counts of manslaughter.

Not guilty pleas have also been entered on behalf of the company, which faces two counts of breaching health and safety legislation.

Jurors have heard that the Winters could not be considered responsible for the two deaths as it was the duty of fire officers at the scene to be aware of the dangers of a blaze involving fireworks and to take the necessary precautions.

It was also suggested during Nathan Winter's evidence that his concerns to keep the flames away from the container were not taken seriously enough by fire officers.