New Ferry explosion: Furniture shop owner jailed over insurance job

Pascal Blasio Image copyright Merseyside Police
Image caption Pascal Blasio had denied being behind the "almost apocalyptic" blast

A furniture shop owner who deliberately caused an explosion that injured 81 people in a botched insurance job has been jailed.

Pascal Blasio, 57, had denied being behind the blast at his shop in New Ferry, Merseyside, in 2017, but was found guilty earlier this month.

A 21-year-old man suffered life-changing injuries and 63 properties in the surrounding area were damaged.

Blasio was sentenced to 20 years in prison at Liverpool Crown Court.

"You have exhibited human selfishness in an almost chemically pure state," Judge Thomas Teague QC told the defendant, from Gillingham, Kent.

"You did not care who else might suffer as long as you could swindle the insurers out of £50,000."

The judge added it was a "remarkable stroke of sheer good fortune" that no-one was killed.

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Media captionCCTV footage of the blast

The court heard Blasio's business, Homes in Style in Bebington Road, was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time of the blast on 25 March.

There was a "truly chaotic scene in the aftermath of the explosion; one of complete and utter devastation - one almost apocalyptic", prosecutor Nigel Lawrence QC said at the start of the trial.

The blast at 21:15 GMT happened after Blasio opened a valve in his shop to release gas and switched on an electric fire, the court heard.

Image copyright Merseyside Police
Image caption One witness said it was a "complete scene of devastation"

Among the 81 victims was Lewis Jones, who was left "clinging to life" after suffering a serious brain injury, the trial was told.

Ian Brown, who had been having a meal in a restaurant opposite the furniture shop, told the court it felt like a terrorist attack.

"It was a complete scene of devastation and there was complete pandemonium. The air was thick with dust, you couldn't see," he said.

Kim Ashwin, co-owner of a dance studio above the furniture shop, said if the blast had happened earlier in the day, or on any other night of the week, there could have been 100 children and their families inside.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption The blast left 81 people injured and destroyed or damaged 63 properties

Neil Mitchell, from Wirral Council, said the explosion "was probably the most significant disaster that the council and emergency services in the borough had ever faced in peacetime".

Blasio originally stood trial in January but the jury was discharged after being unable to reach a verdict. A retrial started on 24 September.

Jurors unanimously found Blasio guilty of causing an explosion likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property and fraud, in relation to the insurance claim, on 14 October.

Before his trial, Contract Natural Gas pleaded guilty to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 by failing to ensure that gas supply pipes were disconnected.

The company was fined £320,000 and ordered to pay £50,000 towards the prosecution costs.

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