Compensation for families of dead firemen after Ringmer fire

Marlie Farm
Marlie Farm

Almost ten years after a fatal fire at Ringmer, families of two dead firemen will receive compensation from the fire service.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue (ESFRS) has dropped its appeal against liability for the deaths of Brian Wembridge, of Crowborough and Geoff Wicker, of Heathfield, at Marlie Farm firework factory, Ringmer, in 2006.

In 2013 the High Court ruled ESFRS was guilty of negligence having failed its employees. Insurers for the service appealed against the decision ordering them to pay compensation.

Mr Wicker and Mr Wembridge died in the fire. Lawyers for the Fire Brigades Union argued fire service errors, including lack of equipment, radios not working properly and only 16 per cent of crews receiving a command to evacuate the site, may have been a factor.

Brian Wembridge, 63, married to Lesley with two sons, had a long and distinguished career with the service from 1961. The day after his retirement in 1994 he had taken over as the service’s official photographer and cameraman.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “This is welcome news for families of Geoff and Brian but it is a scandal it has taken this long for ESFRS to admit its guilt and to honour the court’s ruling.

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.”

ESFRS said it had been told insurers Zurich had discontinued the appeal in respect of the civil compensation case brought by their families and other injured firefighters.

ESFRS chair Phil Howson said: “Geoff and Brian were respected colleagues and are missed by those who knew them. We have learnt lessons from what happened. A full investigation took place afterwards and we brought in changes to the way we work and the way fire services across the UK and internationally work. We remain committed to ensuring our firefighters are as safe as they can possibly be when they are called out to emergencies.”

Nine other ESFRS 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 four on appeal.) A separate case was pursued through the civil courts for compensation. The service was found guilty of a number of failings contributing to the deaths of Geoff and Brian.