Owner of fireworks shop where blaze broke out is found guilty of manslaughter

‘I‘m going to prison, there‘s going to be dead in there because of me‘: What fireworks shop owner told paramedics after blaze broke out killing a customer and colleague as he‘s found guilty of manslaughter

Richard Pearson has been found guilty of manslaughter following the fire at his shop

A fireworks shop owner told paramedics that there were ‘going to be dead in there because of me‘ after a fire broke out, killing a customer and colleague.

Richard Pearson, who was badly injured himself in the blaze, has now been found guilty of manslaughter following the fire at SP Fireworks in Baswich, Stafford.  

Employee Simon Hillier, 41, and customer Stewart Staples, 57, both died in the blaze in 2014 after they became trapped inside the building.

They died as a result of inhaling products of combustion and their bodies were recovered the following day.

Pearson was found guilty of two counts of manslaughter by gross negligence yesterday after a five-week trial. 

A witness described the fierce fire and fireworks erupting as going on for 40 minutes. Pearson, 44, of Stafford, looked to the ground in the dock at Stafford Crown Court as he was found guilty.

He denied both charges and told jurors he believed a homemade firework may have started the fire, causing an explosion to ‘roll‘ from a stairwell across his shop.

The Crown alleged that Pearson was guilty of gross negligence as he failed take reasonable care in the storing and handling of explosives in the run-up to the deaths.

Giving evidence earlier in his trial, the defendant said he believed Mr Hillier may have been carrying a homemade firework which was set off ‘by friction‘.

The business owner was badly injured in the blaze and was not interviewed by police until months after the incident.

Allan Compton, prosecuting, said that the intensity of the fire and continual explosion of fireworks was such that emergency services could not get inside.

Mr Compton said Pearson was badly injured by the fire, but that Pearson told a witness the premises were ‘rammed with explosives.‘

Pearson told paramedic Katherine Ellis: ‘I‘m going to prison, there‘s going to be dead in there because of me.‘

And he said to another paramedic, Andrew Elliot: ‘You‘ve got to get me out of here, you‘ve no idea how much explosives are in there.

Judge Michael Chambers QC said: ‘He has denied any responsibility for this incident.

‘He has shown no remorse whatsoever and he has blamed others which is an aggravating feature in this case.

‘Anyone who looks after fireworks does so under an extremely high duty of care.‘

A statement released on behalf of the Hillier family said: ‘It is hard to put into words how Simon‘s death has affected us.

‘As a small close-knit family it has left a massive hole in our lives and our lives will never be the same again. Thomas misses his dad dearly and the memories that they shared were so short-lived.‘

The statement added: ‘We all miss Simon and he is in our thoughts every day. It breaks our hearts that we will never see him again.‘

The Staples family also gave a statement after the verdict which read: ‘Stewart was a devout family man and a real gentleman respected by everyone he met.

‘He was suddenly taken from his loving family on October 30, 2014. It has been a long and difficult three-and-a-half years since his death and the case being brought to trial.

‘These years have seen our family struggle with pain and grief over the loss of Stewart. We have got the right verdict.‘

Detective Inspector Glyn Pattinson, who led the investigation, said: ‘It is more than three years since this fire took place and we are glad that the jury has reached an outcome in this tragic case.

‘However, our first thoughts are for the families and friends of Mr Staples and Mr Hillier who lost their lives that day. We hope this brings some degree of closure for them.‘

Pearson will be sentenced at the Stafford Crown Court on June 13.