Blast death haunts mates


The death of firefighter Derek Lovell will haunt his colleagues for years to come, says the lawyer hired to represent them.

The firefighters injured in last year’s horrific Tamahere coolstore explosion and blaze have been in court today and yesterday to listen to sentencing proceedings.

Firefighter Merv Neil and wife Alice in April this year on the anniversary of the fire that left him badly burned

Sitting among his uniformed colleagues was firefighter Merv Neil, who was described as the most seriously injured of the seven surviving fighters and was still wearing pressure bandages over burns to his arms, reported the Waikato Times.

Also in court was widow Milli Lovell, whose husband, Hamilton Senior Station Officer Derek Lovell, was killed in the explosion on April 5 last year.

The day-long proceedings at Hamilton District Court took an obvious toll on many, with several firefighters and family members embracing and weeping during court intervals.

The large turnout by the fire service was an impressive sign of solidarity, with uniformed staff leaving the courthouse together.

Judge Robert Spear began the hearing by expressing his sympathies to those who had suffered in the tragic coolstore explosion.

Lawyer Thomas Sutcliffe, speaking on behalf of the eight victims, said the coolstore explosion had claimed one life, caused “horrific injuries” to three, and seriously injured four others.

The surviving firefighters’ myriad of disabilities included loss of hearing, sight, smell, feeling and memory.

Several of them had to come to terms with being permanently disfigured.

Mr Sutcliffe said they all had to endure the continuing anguish of losing a loved and trusted colleague.

“The loss of a fellow firefighter is difficult for these men to accept and will be for years to come,” he said.

Mr Sutcliffe said that while Icepak Coolstores and Mobile Refrigeration Specialists had offered $95,000 reparation each, the court should feel free to order a greater amount.

He cautioned the court against comparing the coolstore explosion to other Labour Department prosecutions, saying the victims’ emotional harm went beyond the facts.

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