Compensation for Crowborough firefighter’s family


East Sussex Fire and Rescue has dropped their appeal against liability for the deaths of Brian Wembridge from Crowborough and Geoff Wicker from Heathfield at a firework factory near Lewes in 2006.

firefightersThe High Court ruled back in 2013 that East Sussex FRS was guilty of negligence having failed its employees.  But insurers working on behalf of East Sussex Fire and Rescue appealed against a High Court decision ordering them to pay compensation.

Mr Wicker and Mr Wembridge, both perished in the fire at Marlie Farm.  Lawyers for the FBU successfully argued a series of errors by the fire service which may have been a factor.  It was found that there was a lack of equipment, radios were not working properly and, when firefighters should have been evacuating from the site, only 16% of crews at the scene received the command.

Brian Wembridge, 63, who was married to Lesley and had two sons, had a long and distinguished career with the fire service, joining it as an operational firefighter in 1961.  The day after his retirement from the service in 1994, he had taken over as official photographer and cameraman for the fire service.

Plague marking the death of Crowborough fireman Brian Wembridge on Bench Ashdown ForestReacting to the news, Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, said:

This is welcome news for the families of Geoff and Brian but it is a scandal it has taken this long for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service to admit its guilt and to honour the ruling of the court. Those responsible for these outrageous decisions should hang their heads in shame for prolonging this painful process.

Geoff and Brian died in the line of duty serving the public. We have a duty to make sure their families are looked after and that justice is done.

The FBU have campaigned tirelessly and this approach has now paid off.

I know all firefighters hope lessons will be learnt from this tragedy so this doesn’t happen again in the future.

Our thoughts are now with the families of Geoff and Brian and the other injured firefighters.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service have said they have been informed that the insurers Zurich have discontinued the appeal in respects to the civil compensation case brought against the Service by their families and by other injured firefighters.

Chairman of East Sussex Fire Authority Phil Howson said:

The decision to appeal the original July 2013 ruling was made by our insurers and we were bound by that decision.  We hope that now the settlement of the individual claims can be progressed by the insurers and that this development will now draw this matter to a conclusion for all concerned.

Chief Fire Officer and Chief Executive Des Prichard said:

Geoff Wicker and Brian Wembridge were well-respected colleagues and are still missed by those who knew them.  We continue to remember their dedication to serving our community.

We have learnt lessons from what happened at Marlie Farm.  A full investigation took place immediately afterwards and we have brought in many changes not only to the way we work, but to the way fire services across the UK and internationally work.  We remain committed to ensuring our firefighters are as safe as they can possible be when they are called out to emergencies.

Watch Commander Geoff Wicker from Heathfield and Brian Wembridge were fatally injured during an explosion.  Nine other East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service personnel, two Sussex Police Officers and two members of the public were also injured.

In December 2009, a father and son were convicted of their manslaughter.  Martin Winter, owner of Festival Fireworks UK Ltd, was jailed for seven years at Lewes Crown Court.  His son Nathan, was jailed for five years (later to reduced to 4 on appeal).

A separate case was pursued through the civil courts for compensation.  East Sussex FRS were found guilty of a number of failings contributing to the deaths of Geoff and Brian including a failure to train staff about the danger of fireworks stored in bulk, a failure to pre-plan as well as a communications breakdown resulting in a flawed evacuation once the danger had become clear.

The news comes after the FBU ran a campaign urging the fire service to drop its appeal and accept liability.

East Sussex FRS will now pay compensation to the families of those killed and to the firefighters injured but they continue to dispute liability for injuries caused to police officers on the day.

There is a memorial stone and tree to Brian Wembridge on the lawn at Crowborough Fire Station, as well as a bench overlooking Brian’s favourite spot on the Ashdown Forest.




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