A family have celebrated an historic victory today after winning a High Court battle to seek compensation from East Sussex Fire Service after a firefighter was killed in an explosion at a fireworks factory.
Geoff Wicker, 49, died in the fire at Marlie Farm, Shortgate in 2006, after being among the first emergency service crews to tackle the fire.
The blast, at the site near Lewes in East Sussex on 3 December 2006, sent debris and fireworks across the area killing two firefighters and injuring 20 more police and fire rescue officers.
While attempting to control the blaze, which was described as ‘chaos’ by witnesses, firefighters lost their helmets and had their protective clothing pierced by metal.
Mr Wicker’s family have argued that fire crews were "ill-prepared and poorly resourced” to deal with the nature of the blast and demanded legal action.
While East Sussex Fire Service said the family should not be able to bring a claim against the service and that it should have immunity from compensation claims.
But the High Court today ruled that they were in fact liable to protect their employees and that Mrs Wicker could make a claim for negligence against her husband’s employer.
Slater and Gordon Personal Injury Lawyer Tristan Hallam, who represented Mrs Wicker said, “This judgement is a relief to the family who have been battling for seven years to see the fire service admit that mistakes were made that day. No one should be subjected to a negligent employer who puts their life at risk no matter what their profession.
“The fire service’s own investigation into the explosion that day made a lot of recommendations and yet they argued that Mrs Wicker wasn’t entitled to any compensation for their failings and the tragic loss of her husband. In our view this was the only fair and unbiased judgement that could be made and it is a landmark victory for families who may want to bring claims against the fire service. No employee should be faced with an argument that a negligent employer is immune from a claim.”
The team of lawyers representing the family argued that the tragedy occurred due to a lack of training for the firefighters, a failure by the authorities to inspect the site regularly and a number of failures on the day including radios not working, an evacuation whistle not being loud enough and a lack of equipment.
They also argued that there was a failure by those in charge of the site and that there was confusion as to whether the crews were being told to withdraw or evacuate the site completely.
Mr Wicker was a retained firefighter and had served the fire brigade for 31 years.
Tristan Hallam is a Senior Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
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