CALLS have been made for a Home Office investigation to be launched after a Nuneaton fire manager walked free from court after a six week ordeal.
Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service and the Chief Fire Officers Association are writing to the Home Secretary and to the Justice Secretary to seek a formal investigation into why three Warwickshire fire fighters were prosecuted for alleged manslaughter by gross negligence.
This comes after 45-year-old Adrian Ashley from Manor Court Road in Nuneaton was acquitted at Stafford Crown Court.
Screams and sobs of joy could be heard from the public gallery after the verdict was announced at the end of the trial.
Fellow Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service manager Timothy Woodward, aged 51 and from Leamington Spa was also vindicated.
Timothy Woodward, Paul Simmons and Adrian Ashley each faced four counts of manslaughter following the deaths of four of their colleagues at a warehouse fire in Atherstone-on-Stour, Warwickshire in 2007.
Paul Simmons was acquitted five weeks into the trial at the judge's direction.
Graeme Smith, the chief fire officer for Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: "I am very pleased that the case against our three Incident Commanders has so comprehensively collapsed. I expected nothing less. It is now clear that these cases should never have been brought to court.
"I am relieved that their ordeal is over but I also feel a sense of sorrow and remembrance for the four brave fire fighters who died at Atherstone-on-Stour in 2007. We will now be seeking assurances from ministers that prosecutions like this never happen again."
For the first time it was revealed in court that the blaze had been started deliberately and Mr Smith expressed anger at the fact that the arsonists responsible for the Atherstone-on-Stour fire and the deaths of four fighters had not been caught.
“Let me be clear about this,” he said.
“There is clear evidence that the Atherstone fire was arson. The police clearly thought it was because in 2009 they arrested several people on suspicion of arson.
"And during this court hearing we have discovered that the independent report into the cause of the Atherstone fire also concluded that it was arson. So why have the arsonists not been apprehended? And why instead did three innocent fire officers find themselves in the dock of a British court?”
“Something went badly wrong with this case. It’s time for some answers. I want some answers, the three Incident Commanders want some answers and the families of those who died deserve some answers too."
Four firefighters, 20-year-old Ashley Stephens, 27-year-old John Averis, 24- year-old Darren Yates-Badley and 44-yearold Ian Reid lost their lives in the massive warehouse blaze at a vegetable packing plant.
As reported in the Nuneaton News, Warwickshire County Council have already pleaded guilty to a health and safety charge over the deaths.
The authority, which is responsible for operating the Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, entered a limited plea at Wolverhampton Crown Court.