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10 years jail for fireworks factory boss over deadly Stafford blaze

By Annabal Bagdi | Stafford | Crime | Published:

The 'arrogant' boss of a fireworks factory where two people perished in a blaze has been jailed for 10 years.

Richard Pearson has been jailed over a fatal fire at the fireworks factory he owned in Stafford

Richard Pearson, director of SP Fireworks, was found guilty last month of causing the deaths of colleague Simon Hillier and customer Stewart Staples in the blaze in October 2014.

Mr Hillier, 41, and Mr Staples, 57, both from Hednesford, died as a result of inhaling products of combustion during the devastating fire at Pearson's business unit in Baswich, Stafford.

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Pearson, of Holyrood Close, Stafford, had denied both charges after attempting to blame others for what happened, including Mr Hillier - a move the judge described as 'not reasonable in any sense of the word'.

At Stafford Crown Court, Judge Michael Chambers QC insisted this was 'not a case where remorse loomed large' and the defendant had 'given the impression of being rather arrogant'.

'Arrogant recklessness'

Sentencing Pearson today, the judge said: "You have known your true culpability from the start yet you have chosen to falsely blame others.

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"Despite being very knowledgeable about fireworks and the risks they pose, motivated by financial profit, you have demonstrated an arrogant recklessness for the safety of others in the storage and handling of dangerous fireworks.

"From the start, when the enormity of what you had done and the likely consequences for you struck home, you untruthfully said to the paramedics and a police officer that someone must have thrown a firework into your shop."

Customer Stewart Staples, left, and factory worker Simon Hillier both died in the fire

The judge said Pearson had chosen to 'deliberately flout the regulations and fundamental safety requirements on a grand scale', adding that he was 'clearly aware of the risk of death arising from your negligent conduct'.

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In a victim impact statement read to the court, Mr Staples' wife Angela said despite being a devout Christian for 28 years, the incident had 'led to a complete lack of faith'.

She said: "I was part of a close, happy family... until October 30 when our lives changed forever.

"We still struggle with the pain, anger and grief of losing Stewart. I still find sleep hard to come by.

The blaze at SP plastics was tackled by more than 50 firefighters

"Stewart's life was cut short by the lack of care of Richard Pearson. The ripples from Stewart's death have spread far and wide."

Prosecutor Allan Compton added that Mr Hillier's family had been left 'broken-hearted' by his death.

Mr Compton told the court Pearson had been flouting the rules with a 'deliberate nature of illegal activity over a number of years'.

He said there had been a 'degree of recklessness over his two businesses' - SP Fireworks and SP Plastics.

'No responsibility and no remorse'

Detective Inspector Glyn Pattinson, who led the investigation for Staffordshire Police, welcomed today's sentence, adding: During the lengthy investigation and throughout his trial Pearson attempted to offer alternative explanations for the fire which thankfully the jury did not accept.

"He always sought to blame others and never once took responsibility for his own actions or showed any remorse for what happened that evening.

“It is more than three years since this tragic incident took place and 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.”

The factory in the aftermath of the blaze

Tim Hyde, who was incident commander for Staffordshire Fire and Rescue on the night of the fire, said: “This was an incredibly difficult incident to deal with; with an unknown amount of explosives stored at the site it was very dangerous for firefighters and nearby members of the public.

"The unpredictable nature of the fireworks meant the conditions were very hazardous and we were acutely aware there had been a similar incident elsewhere in the country where firefighters had lost their lives.

“Our crews worked relentlessly to extinguish the blaze and I can say on behalf of everyone that it was very harrowing knowing there were people believed to be inside the building."

Elizabeth Reid, from the Crown Prosecution Service, added: “Safety regulations and licence requirements were flouted by Richard Pearson with devastating consequences.

"He was under a duty to ensure he took reasonable care in handling and storing fireworks so that customers and employers could not be harmed.

"He had many years of experience handling fireworks and would have known full well the dangers that existed in running his business the way he did."

Annabal Bagdi

By Annabal Bagdi
@AnnabalB_Star

Senior reporter based at Wolverhampton

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