A furniture shop owner has been jailed for 20 years for causing a “colossal” explosion which injured 81 people in an attempt to claim insurance.
Pascal Blasio, 57, of Gillingham in Kent, caused the blast at his failing business, the Homes In Style furniture store in New Ferry, Wirral, on March 25 2017, Liverpool Crown Court heard on Wednesday.
Sentencing him, Judge Thomas Teague QC said: “You have exhibited human selfishness in an almost chemically pure state.”
The businessman was found guilty of causing an explosion likely to endanger life and of fraud, in relation to an insurance claim for more than £50,000, following a trial.
The blast, at about 9.15pm on a Saturday night, happened when Blasio opened a valve in his shop to release gas and switched on an electric fire, the court heard.
It destroyed or damaged 63 properties.
Judge Teague told him: “You did not care who else might suffer as long as you could swindle the insurers out of £50,000, money to which you knew perfectly well you had no right.”
He said the blast was “colossal” and “annihilated” the furniture store and dance studio above it, as well as effectively reducing an entire block of buildings “to rubble”.
The judge said it was a “remarkable stroke of sheer good fortune” that no-one was killed.
Blasio, whose wife was in tears in court, sat with his head against the glass panel of the dock at times during the hearing and shook his head as the judge read his sentencing remarks.
The court heard that among the 81 victims of the explosion was Lewis Jones, who was waiting at a bus stop when the blast happened and suffered a serious brain injury.
Henry Riding, prosecuting, said: “He was left, literally, clinging to life.”
Mr Jones, who was 21 at the time, was in court for the hearing along with other members of the community.
Ian Brown, who had been having a meal in Lan’s Chinese restaurant, opposite the furniture shop, when the explosion happened, told the court it felt like a terrorist attack.
He said: “It was a complete scene of devastation and there was complete pandemonium. The air was thick with dust, you couldn’t see.”
The court heard a number of statements from residents describing the impact of the injuries and damage to properties.
Kim Ashwin, co-owner of Complete Works Performance School above the Homes In Style shop, said if the blast had happened earlier in the day or on any other night of the week there could have been 100 children and their families inside the dance studio.
In a statement, Neil Mitchell, from Wirral Council environmental services, said: “The explosion in March 2017 was probably the most significant disaster that the council and emergency services in the borough had ever faced in peacetime.”
David Mason QC, defending, said Blasio, a grandfather-of-seven, had suffered intimidation from inmates in prison while on remand.
He said: “Mr Blasio has lost everything now, his family will suffer.”
Blasio was sentenced to 20 years for causing the explosion and given a concurrent sentence of eight years for the fraud.
Speaking outside court, New Ferry resident Christopher Power, whose home was damaged in the explosion, said: “We have a long way to go. Yes, it may be closure on this part, but we have to live now and we have to rebuild our lives.
“He took away our lives and that’s upsetting.”
Assistant Chief Constable of Merseyside Police Natalie Perischine said: “I sincerely hope that the sentencing of Blasio today means people of New Ferry can now start to draw a line under that fateful night and begin to rebuild their lives in the knowledge that Blasio will spend a considerable amount of time in prison paying for his greedy and selfish actions.”
Blasio originally stood trial in January but the jury was discharged after being unable to reach a verdict and a retrial began last month.
Before his trial, Contract Natural Gas pleaded guilty to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 by failing to ensure that gas supply pipes were disconnected.
The company was fined £320,000 and ordered to pay £50,000 towards the prosecution costs.