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Crown Prosecution Service Statement on Martin and Nathan Winter and Alpha Fireworks Ltd.

16/12/2009

Sarah Jane Gallagher, Chief Crown Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service in Sussex after the sentencing of Martin and Nathan Winter at Lewes Crown Court said: "This is a tragic case where two fire crew died in what was described as a mass explosion, while doing their duty putting out a fire that started at the Alpha Fireworks factory in Sussex and spread to surrounding buildings.

"Martin Winter and his son Nathan, the factory owners, were experts in handling and storing everyday fireworks. They knew that fireworks should be treated as explosives and they knew they had a duty to take reasonable care to protect the public. This responsibility is recognised by the law.

"The jury decided that both defendants breached that duty of care; they were fully aware of the legislation and the different hazard classifications given to fireworks. They knew that storing certain fireworks with others in a metal container posed a high risk of mass explosion. This is exactly what happened on the 3rd of December 2006.

"Geoff Wicker and Brian Wembridge were killed by the effect of that explosion and about 20 others, mostly fire and police officers, were injured."

The jury found Martin and Nathan Winter guilty of gross negligence manslaughter.

Sarah Jane Gallagher said: " It appeared that both these men were prepared to risk their own safety, hoping there would not be any incidents.

"But by taking this risk, their failure to take reasonable care resulted in the death of two fire crew and that conduct is described as criminal.

 "The members of CPS staff involved in this case have worked extensively with Sussex Police; the Health and Safety Executive and senior counsel to present the clearest possible case to a jury.

"I would like to thank the CPS lawyer and paralegal officer who have been involved in the case, our lawyer since the very early stages of the proceedings. Both provided invaluable work throughout.

"As a result of three years of prosecution teamwork the jury has been satisfied that what happened on the 3rd December 2006 should not be regarded as simply an accident: those tragic events arose from criminal behaviour by the defendants.

" We would like to thank all the witnesses who gave evidence in this case and our thoughts go to the families of the victims and their colleagues."

Neil Morton, Chief Inspector of explosives at the Health and Safety Executive said: " This case is a stark reminder of the terrible consequences of not following the correct procedures when handling hazardous material. If Alpha fireworks had handled and stored the fireworks correctly, the fire and subsequent explosion would not have happened."

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