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'Arrogant' business owner jailed over firework shop deaths

Richard Pearson was convicted of two manslaughter charges by a jury last month.

Richard Pearson at Stafford Crown Court.
Richard Pearson at Stafford Crown Court. PA

An "arrogant" business owner convicted of two manslaughter charges after a fire engulfed a shop he "rammed" with fireworks has been jailed for ten years.

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

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

SP Fireworks blaze
SP Fireworks blaze SP Fireworks blaze

Pearson, of Holyrood Close, Stafford, had denied both charges after attempting to blame others for what happened, including Mr Hillier - a move the judge described as "not reasonable in any sense of the word".

At Stafford Crown Court, Judge Michael Chambers QC insisted this was "not a case where remorse loomed large" and the defendant had "given the impression of being rather arrogant".

Sentencing Pearson on Wednesday, the judge said: "You have known your true culpability from the start yet you have chosen to falsely blame others.

"Despite being very knowledgeable about fireworks and the risks they pose, motivated by financial profit, you have demonstrated an arrogant recklessness for the safety of others in the storage and handling of dangerous fireworks.

SP Fireworks blaze
SP Fireworks blaze SP Fireworks blaze

"From the start, when the enormity of what you had done and the likely consequences for you struck home, you untruthfully said to the paramedics and a police officer that someone must have thrown a firework into your shop."

The judge said Pearson had chosen to "deliberately flout the regulations and fundamental safety requirements on a grand scale", adding that he was "clearly aware of the risk of death arising from your negligent conduct".

In a victim impact statement read to the court, Mr Staples' wife Angela said despite being a devout Christian for 28 years, the incident had "led to a complete lack of faith".

She said: "I was part of a close, happy family... until October 30 when our lives changed forever.

"We still struggle with the pain, anger and grief of losing Stewart. I still find sleep hard to come by.

"Stewart's life was cut short by the lack of care of Richard Pearson. The ripples from Stewart's death have spread far and wide."

Prosecutor Allan Compton added that Mr Hillier's family had been left "broken-hearted" by his death.

Mr Compton told the court Pearson had been flouting the rules with a "deliberate nature of illegal activity over a number of years".

He said there had been a "degree of recklessness over his two businesses" - SP Fireworks and SP Plastics.

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