Jury in Manchester firefighter inquest retires


A jury has been asked to consider whether a Manchester firefighter who died while tackling a blaze at a city centre building was unlawfully killed.

Father-of-two Stephen Hunt, 38, died after becoming disorientated in Paul's Hair World in Manchester's Northern Quarter on July 13 2013, after a fire broke out at the premises.

Two 15-year-old girls who had been smoking cigarettes at the back of the building in Oldham Street were arrested in connection with the fire.

One was charged with committing arson and being reckless as to whether life was endangered, but prosecutors dropped the charge against the girl - now aged 17 and who cannot be named for legal reasons.

After summing up six weeks' worth of evidence, senior coroner for Manchester Nigel Meadows said that one of the 15 questions that the 11 jurors must answer was whether Mr Hunt was unlawfully killed, and if so, whether it had been by one of the girls or by a joint enterprise.

They must also consider if the fire had been started deliberately.

The girls, who both gave evidence to the inquest being held at Manchester's Civil Justice Centre, maintained that they had put out their cigarettes.

Mr Hunt was one of around 60 Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service firefighters who tackled the blaze at the store which sells products such as wigs, hair dye and extensions, that had started at around 2.46pm.

During the inquest which began on April 4, jurors were shown a selfie video of the girls appearing to confess to starting the fire.

One of the girls can be seen to say: "We're not very happy because we started a fire we actually didn't mean to, seriously."

The second girl adds: "Oh God."

During the inquest, in which more than 50 witnesses were called to give evidence, jurors also heard from another teen witness who claimed that one of the girls had admitted pushing a lit piece of paper through the doorway.

The inquest was told that the rear of the building - where the fire started - had largely been used as a cardboard storage area.

Jurors must also ask whether the storage area and racking up the stairs from the emergency exit doors had contributed to the fire developing.

They must also answer questions in relation to safety control measures put in place for crews entering the building.

Mr Hunt had entered the building equipped with breathing apparatus at around 8pm with his colleague Jeremy Jones, but visibility was virtually nil.

The pair were in the building for around half an hour before two other firefighters were tasked to take over.

But as Mr Hunt and Mr Jones attempted to leave the premises they became disorientated and separated.

A timeline of the tragedy showed that Mr Hunt's motion alarm sounded at 8.35pm - meaning that he had not moved for a period of 36 seconds.

Firefighter Hunt was discovered collapsed and taken from the building at 8.41pm but could not be resuscitated.

He was pronounced dead at the Manchester Royal Infirmary at 9.21pm.