Detective defends detention of fire service managers in investigation into firefighters' death


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The Independent Online

The detective in charge of an inquiry into the deaths of four firefighters in a warehouse blaze has defended a decision to hold three fire service managers in custody overnight during questioning.

Detective Superintendent Ken Lawrence told jurors the simultaneous arrests of Timothy Woodward, Paul Simmons and Adrian Ashley were necessary to allow a "prompt and effective" investigation of the fatal blaze.

The Crown alleges that Woodward, Simmons and Ashley, who each deny four counts of manslaughter, acted negligently during the fire in Atherstone-on-Stour, Warwickshire, in November 2007.

Giving evidence at Stafford Crown Court, Det Supt Lawrence denied a suggestion from Simmons' barrister that holding the long-serving watch manager in custody overnight in February 2010 had been "overkill".

It also emerged during cross-examination of Mr Lawrence that belts and shoelaces were taken from the fire service managers after they attended for pre-arranged interviews.

Mr Lawrence, the final witness to give evidence during the Crown's case, told the court that around 200 firefighters, including the defendants, were interviewed as potential witnesses following the blaze.

Explaining the decision to conduct simultaneous interviews with Woodward, Simmons and Ashley, Mr Lawrence said: "I believed that because the three suspects knew each other and worked together ... it was beneficial for them that they were interviewed simultaneously."

The strategy for the arrests not only allowed police to conduct an effective investigation, but avoided the possibility of the suspects conferring with each other, Mr Lawrence added.

Neil Fitzgibbon, defending Simmons, began his cross-examination of Mr Lawrence by pointing out that his client had 27 years of service as a firefighter and had received medals for long service and good conduct.

The barrister asked Mr Lawrence if - with the benefit of hindsight - he thought it was "a little bit of overkill" to hold Mr Simmons in custody overnight during two days of questioning.

Mr Lawrence, who described the removal of items such as belts as standard procedure, replied: "No, I don't."

The prosecution alleges that Ashley Stephens, 20, Darren Yates-Badley, 24, John Averis, 27, and 44-year-old Ian Reid lost their lives needlessly after being sent into an obviously dangerous situation for no good reason.

Simmons, 50, from Hampton Magna, Warwickshire, and Ashley, 45, from Nuneaton, are alleged to have breached their duty of care to those who were killed by "exposing them to substantial risk to life when no other lives were at risk".

Woodward, 51, from Leamington Spa, is alleged to have breached his duty of care to the dead men by failing to end the deployment of colleagues wearing breathing apparatus for the purpose of "offensive" firefighting.

The trial was adjourned until Monday.