Police press conference was ill-advised

The recently concluded trial of three Warwickshire firefighters at Stafford Crown Court resulted in one of the men being acquitted on the direction of the trial judge and the remaining two being found not guilty by the jury.

Like many ex-firefighters, I followed the trial each day through the transcripts posted on the support group website. As the trial ran its course, it was clear that the entire process was leading nowhere. In the light of the £4.6 million investigation carried out by Warwickshire Police in the four years following the Atherstone-on-Stour tragedy allied to the Crown Prosecution Service’s determination to bring criminal proceedings, it is not surprising that the relatives of the four men who lost their lives began to harbour high hopes about learning exactly how and why their loved ones had perished. Small wonder that they now feel aggrieved by the outcome after what turned out to be an interminable and exhaustive investigation and a criminal trial, neither of which answered any of their questions.

One might have hoped that with the acquittal of the three firefighters, this unfortunate saga would be brought to some sort of conclusion. But in their wisdom, Warwickshire Police staged a press conference at which comments were made by the senior police officer who had led the investigation expressing his ‘disappointment’ about the acquittals. Better had he kept his mouth shut rather than to demonstrate such undisguised partiality.

Neither the police nor the CPS emerge from this debacle with any credit and many aspects of the case and the manner in which the police carried out their enquiries raise serious concerns. My heart goes out to the families of all those who died at Atherstone but it is unfortunately a truism that all of us who have ever donned a fire tunic know that firefighting is not and will never be an exact science and however you look at it, there will be times when unforeseen circumstances conspire against you. To try to apportion blame when that happens is I fear a rather fruitless exercise. As the trial judge, the Hon Mr Justice MacDuff, said in his summing up “.... firefighters make measured judgements and do not have the luxury of time such as a barrister has when they can take days to make a judgement, They take decisions you and I never have to consider and you may think they are entitled to be treated fairly before being found guilty of a grave crime” - words which the Director of Public Prosecutions ought to have writ large on the walls of every CPS office.

The Stafford trial was ill-conceived and was in no one’s best interests. I earnestly hope that never again will such speculative prosecutions be brought against those whose lives are selflessly devoted to the service of each and everyone of us. - Alan Griffin, Leam Street, Leamington.