| 4.2°C Dublin

Blaze that killed jockeys either 'arson or alarm failure'

A blaze at a block of flats in which two young jockeys died was either started deliberately or there was a catastrophic failure of the alarm system, a fire investigation expert told a jury on Thursday.

Philip Reed was giving evidence on behalf of Peter Brown, 37, who is accused of starting the fire at Buckrose Court in Norton, North Yorkshire, which killed Jamie Kyne, 18, from Kiltrogue, Co Galway and Jan Wilson, 19, from Forfar, Scotland.

Mr Reed, who has more than 30 years' experience as a firefighter and consultant, was questioned at Leeds Crown Court by Richard Mansell QC, prosecuting who asked whether there was any evidence that the blaze could have begun much earlier as a smouldering fire which, for some reason, burst into flames.

The expert said there was no physical evidence of a smouldering fire but added he could not rule out the possibility that that was how the blaze had started, under further questioning, he also agreed that such a fire would have gone through various stages of development, which should have triggered multiple fire alarms in the block before the raging blaze which eventually did trigger the alarm system.

Mr Mansell asked the expert: "Either the alarm must have disastrously failed them or this was a deliberately-lit free-flaming fire from the start?"

Mr Reed said: "I agree, sir - or a combination of both."

Mr Mansell has already told the jury of six men and six women the prosecution case is that Brown started the blaze when he lit rubbish in the communal entrance to the flats in the early hours of September 5 last year. Brown was a former caretaker for the complex and lived in one of the blocks.

Prosecutors say a drunken Brown torched the complex as an act of revenge after he was refused entry to a party in one of the flats.

The fire forced many of the occupants to jump for their lives or climb down drainpipes. Miss Wilson and Mr Kyne were trapped in a top-floor flat.

Brown, of School Croft, Brotherton, North Yorkshire, denies two charges of murder, two charges of manslaughter and one of arson with intent to endanger life.