UPDATE: Man sentenced for blowing up his failing furniture shop to claim on the insurance
UPDATE: 23 October 2019. Blasio was today sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment at Liverpool Crown Court.
A man has been found guilty of blowing up his failing furniture shop and devastating a community so that he could claim on his insurance.
Around 9.15pm on Saturday 25 March 2017, there was a huge explosion at furniture shop Homes in Style in Bebington Road, New Ferry. This was the business premises of Pascal Blasio, 57.
An investigation revealed that the stop tap and blanking cap of a live gas pipe inside the property had been tampered with to allow gas to leak into the property.
The gas had ignited and the explosion caused devastation to the community. Experts told the court that the gas probably built up in the property over a number of hours. How it was ignited was never established as the building was so badly damaged by the explosion.
Eighty-one people were injured in the explosion and 63 properties were either damaged or destroyed.
A 21-year-old man, Lewis Jones, who was at a bus stop next to the shop at the time of the explosion, was left with life-changing injuries and has never worked since.
In the weeks leading up to the incident, witnesses noticed that Blasio’s business appeared to be failing. He relied on sales of the furniture to cover his overheads and to live but the shop was making barely any money and he was almost bankrupt.
On the day before the explosion, the shop was almost empty.
A few days after the explosion, Blasio put an insurance claim in for £50,000 which, he said, was the value of the stock he had lost.
Loss adjustors from the NFU insurance company became suspicious when Blasio seemed to be making no effort to find alternative premises for his business.
Further checks revealed that the shop was in difficulties, despite Blasio claiming he was making over £600 a day in sales.
Investigations also revealed that he had recently tried to remortgage a property he owned for £50,000 - the same amount he was claiming insurance for.
A jury failed to reach a verdict on the case in January 2019 and the Crown Prosecution Service pursued a retrial. Today (14 October 2019) the jury at the retrial in Liverpool Crown Court found Blasio, 57, of Rainham, Gillingham, Kent, guilty of causing an explosion likely to endanger life. He was also found guilty of fraud in relation to an insurance claim submitted to NFU Mutual following the explosion.
Siobhan Heron, for the CPS, said: “This was an insurance job that put members of the public’s lives in danger by virtue of the devastating explosion that occurred as a result of Pascal Blasio’s actions. Blasio was almost bankrupt and had become desperate and he thought he had found the perfect solution to his financial problems.
“There was a blocked off live gas pipe at his shop, dating from an earlier use of the building. He loosened the stop tap and took off the blanking cap to release the gas from the pipe.
“Gas built up at the now almost-empty shop over a number of hours. The explosion that resulted was huge and even the emergency services were shocked at the extent of it.
“Local residents were thrown from their chairs in their living rooms, and their windows were smashed in by the force of the explosion. Diners at a nearby Chinese restaurant were showered in glass as the windows of that property went in too.
“The effect of the incident on Lewis Jones is possibly the most upsetting. This man was just waiting at a nearby bus stop, minding his own business. He may never fully recover from the injuries he suffered.
“The Crown Prosecution Service did not argue that Blasio meant to cause this level of devastation, but he was clearly reckless as to the effects of his actions and he must bear responsibility for what happened.
"This was a complex case that involved piecing together a vast number of pieces of circumstantial evidence to make a convincing case and the jury have agreed with that case. Blasio thought he’d found a way out of his money worries but just made the whole situation catastrophically worse.”
Notes to editors
Siobhan Heron is Head of the Complex Casework Unit in Mersey-Cheshire Crown Prosecution Service