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Carnaud chiefs on chimney fire trial

THREE managers went on trial last week for the manslaughter of two steeplejacks who plunged 30 m to their deaths when a fireball melted steel cables on a work platform.

Paul Wakefield, 40, and Craig Wheelan, 23, were working at the Carnaud Metalbox factory in Westhoughton near Bolton on a job to dismantle the 46 m-tall chimney on May 23, 2002, when they died.

Carnaud managers John Kither,50, technical manager Ian Billington, 40, and Colin Stevens, 58, all denied two counts of manslaughter at Preston Crown Court last week.

Sitting before Judge Peter Openshaw QC, the court heard how the men were in the process of drilling holes in the sides of the chimney when their work cradle burst into flames and they crashed to their deaths.

Mr Wakefield and Mr Wheelan were using oxy-propane cutters in the full knowledge of bosses, who told them the residue in the chimney was not flammable, it was claimed.

Opening the case for the prosecution, James Goss QC said: 'It was an intense fire and, once ignited, the men stood no chance.

There was a minor explosion, the fire started and the men died.'

He told the court that two of the managers had ignored an email from chemical giant ICI warning that the residue coating inside the chimney was dangerous.

The trial is expected to last for five weeks.