Stafford fireworks shop owner Richard Pearson jailed for 10 years

Richard Pearson has been jailed for 10 years after a fire at his fireworks shop killed a colleague and a customer

An ‘arrogant’ business owner convicted of two manslaughter charges after a fire engulfed a shop he ‘rammed’ with fireworks has been jailed for 10 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 during the devastating fire at Pearson’s business unit in Baswich, Stafford.

Pearson, of 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 today, 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.

‘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.’

Employee Simon Hillier died in the blaze

Customer Stewart Staples died in the blaze

Employee Simon Hillier (left), 41, and customer Stewart Staples (right), 57, both died in the blaze in 2014 after they became trapped inside the building

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. 

PIctures from the night of the fire show the intensity of the blaze which killed the two men

PIctures from the night of the fire show the intensity of the blaze which killed the two men

The business owner was badly injured in the blaze and was not interviewed by police until months after the incident.

But the court heard he had told paramedic Katherine Ellis: ‘I’m going to prison, there’s going to be dead in there because of me.’

And he said to another paramedic, Andrew Elliot: ‘You’ve got to get me out of here, you’ve no idea how much explosives are in there.’

In a statement released after Pearson was convicted, the family of Mr Hillier said: ‘It is hard to put into words how Simon’s death has affected us.

‘As a small close-knit family it has left a massive hole in our lives and our lives will never be the same again. Thomas misses his dad dearly and the memories that they shared were so short-lived.’

The statement added: ‘We all miss Simon and he is in our thoughts every day. It breaks our hearts that we will never see him again.’

The Staples family also gave a statement after the verdict which read: ‘Stewart was a devout family man and a real gentleman respected by everyone he met.

‘He was suddenly taken from his loving family on October 30, 2014. It has been a long and difficult three-and-a-half years since his death and the case being brought to trial.

‘These years have seen our family struggle with pain and grief over the loss of Stewart. We have got the right verdict.’