Keeping fireworks in unlicensed metal containers landed Martin Winter, owner of a fireworks factory, in deep trouble. Winter knew the potential dangers the fireworks posed if caught in a blaze, yet he did nothing to avert a possible catastrophe. The catastrophe finally occurred in the form of a massive explosion at his factory that killed two firemen and injured 20 others, mostly members of the emergency services.
Winter was accused of manslaughter and held responsible for the deaths of Brian Wembridge, 63, and Geoff Wicker, 49. The fire and the consequent blast that destroyed Winter’s factory at Marlie Farm in Shortgate occurred in December 2006.
Winter’s company is Festival Fireworks UK, which now trades under the name Alpha Fireworks. The company was found guilty of two counts of infringing health and safety laws.
Lewes Crown Court heard that the explosion was caused by the accidental ignition of fireworks. The ignition set off a chain reaction in the factory and soon, flames engulfed the entire factory. The fire finally reached the metal container and it exploded. Firefighters had already been called in to deal with the situation, and they had tried to put out the fire. The explosion occurred when they were planning to withdraw from the scene.
The fire crew however delayed in their withdrawal/retreat, and had they evacuated a little earlier, the deaths and injuries could have been avoided. Mr. Wembridge particularly stayed behind despite warnings by colleagues to retreat. He was busy filming footage of the blaze. The footage was shown to the court, and it revealed that the explosion was so strong that the metal container doors were blown open by the pressure.
The jury accused owner Martin Winter of gross negligence in making proper arrangements for storage of the fireworks. The jury has so far failed to reach a verdict. The case as it stands now holds Nathan Winter responsible for manslaughter (two charges).