Business owner guilty of deaths after fire at store 'rammed' full of fireworks

A business owner has been convicted of two manslaughter charges after a deadly blaze engulfed his shop which he had "rammed" full with fireworks.

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

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

Hillier
Simon Hillier, 41, was one of the victims of the blaze in October 2014 (Staffordshire Police/PA)

The 44-year-old defendant, of Holyrood Close, Stafford, looked to the ground in the dock at Stafford Crown Court as he was found guilty of both charges of manslaughter by gross negligence.

Pearson, who denied both charges, told jurors last week that he believed the fire may have been started by a home-made firework, causing an explosion to "roll" from a stairwell across his shop.

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

On Tuesday, Judge Michael Chambers QC said of Pearson: "He has denied any responsibility for this incident.

Staples
Stewart Staples, 57, was visiting the shop as a customer when he was caught in the blaze in October 2014 (Staffordshire Police/ PA)

"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.

SP Fireworks blaze
The scene of a fire at a fireworks factory in Stafford (Staffordshire Police/PA)

"As a small close-knit family it has left a massive hole in our lives and our lives will never be the same gain.

"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."

After the blaze broke out, Pearson told paramedics his shop was "rammed" with fireworks and that he would "go to prison" for his part in the blaze.

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.

Pearson will be sentenced at the same court on June 13.

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