New Ferry gas explosion was 'insurance job gone wrong'

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Media captionCCTV footage of the blast was shown to the jury at Liverpool Crown Court

An "apocalyptic" explosion that injured 81 people and caused "utter devastation" was an insurance job that went badly wrong, a court heard.

It was "a miracle" no-one died in the blast in New Ferry, Wirral, on 25 March 2017, Liverpool Crown Court was told.

Furniture shop owner Pascal Blasio, 57, of Gillingham, Kent, denies causing the blast at his store in order to avoid bankruptcy.

He also denies fraud relating to an insurance claim filed afterwards.

Nigel Lawrence QC, prosecuting, said witnesses described hearing a "deafening and almighty bang" and being thrown off their feet by the force of the explosion.

He said the blast could "easily have led to the loss of many lives" and "it was genuinely luck, sheer luck, that prevented this from happening".

'Complete chaos'

Jurors were shown CCTV footage of the moment 63 properties were either destroyed or damaged in the "almost apocalyptic" explosion.

The front of a Chinese restaurant, which was full of diners at the time, was blown in by the blast, showering customers in glass and rubble.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Eighty-one people were injured and 63 properties were destroyed in the explosion

Mr Lawrence said: "The scene, in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, was one of complete chaos.

"People were running everywhere. People were lying on the floor, screaming and crying.

"People were dazed and confused. The scene was one of utter devastation."

Mr Lawrence said 81 people suffered a series of injuries, including lacerations, burns, and psychological trauma.

'Clinging to life'

Following the blast Mr Blasio told investigators business had been "ticking over quite nicely", but in fact it was "on the point of bankruptcy," the prosecutor told the court.

The shop owner had sold off much of his furniture in the three weeks prior to the explosion.

"Trying to start a fire or destroy his shop was his last throw of the dice," said Mr Lawrence who said Mr Blasio told a "pack of lies" to his insurers when he claimed for £51,000 plus loss of business.

Among those injured in the explosion was Lewis Jones, 21, who sustained a serious brain injury and was "left clinging to life", Mr Lawrence said.

Mr Jones has not been able to to work since and is still under the care of a consultant in neuro-rehabilitation, the jury was told.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Pascal Blasio denies causing the blast

Investigations found the blast was caused by a build-up of gas in Mr Blasio's furniture shop, Homes In Style, on Bebington Road.

A cap had been deliberately removed from a pipe and the emergency control valve was turned to allow gas to escape, the jury heard.

The gas came into contact with an "unidentified ignition source", which Mr Lawrence told the court may have been an electrical appliance in the shop.

"This was an insurance job, but perhaps one that, given the scale of what happened, went badly wrong," Mr Lawrence added.

The trial is expected to last for up to four weeks.

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