A DEVASTATING fire that burned for 57 days at an industrial waste site in Swindon could have been prevented with better co-operation between public bodies – especially the borough council and the Environment Agency.

That is the conclusion of the final report on the blaze which broke out at a scrap and recycling site run by the Averies brothers in Marshgate, near the Greenbridge Retail park.

The fire started on July 21, 2014 and firefighters were onsite until September16, nearly two months later. The blaze was the longest in the history of Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service.

In its wake the council’s scrutiny committee set up a group to look at how all the relevant local agencies had responded to the emergency.

It made an interim report a year later but wanted to wait until criminal proceedings against Lee and David Averies had finished before issuing a final report, which has now been published.

It concluded: “The Averies fire was preventable and avoidable if timely action had been taken and enforcement was effective.

“Opportunities were not taken to reduce the volume of waste/scrap stored on site that could have reduced the risk.”

The report says the fact too much waste was being stored illegally without proper control had been noticed, but nothing had been done. “The overloading of the site was observable in the previous year (and was reported) but this did not result in change. A previous small fire on the site could have led to improvements and reduction of risk, as the site overloading was observable.

“It may not have been apparent what was buried below the overloaded site, however corrective action may have exposed the potential fire source.”

The report said the group was concerned that action may not have been taken because it would have cost too much. But the fire then increased the costs on all the public bodies involved.

“Costs appeared to be the prominent factor at the time, rather than public safety being the priority, but acknowledged that extraordinary costs had arisen out of the failures to control the circumstances and adhere to permissions.

“Basic health and safety failures were observable and only led to improvement requirements over time, whereas the evidence provided demonstrated a need for immediate improvement.

“Most of the agencies involved at the time had various powers to deal with incidents like this, but none has the duty to prevent it from happening again. The relationship between the agencies did also not appear to be one of cooperation, but of hierarchy – and this appeared to be a system failure at the time.

“When responding to the fire there were problems with inconsistent representation at meetings, and the lack of delegated authority to act at meetings when decisions needed to be made frustrated the response and delayed some action and extinction of the fire.”

Lee and David Averies imported hundreds of tonnes of industrial rubbish onto Marshgate and let it accumulate in order to save on paying the costs of its proper disposal.They were only found out when it caught fire and burned for 57 days in the summer of 2014.

The pair ran two waste yards in Swindon – Marshgate and one in Brindley Close, where a fire broke out in November 2013 and burned for a week.

After the fire at Marshgate which cost £500,000 of public money to put out their company Averies Recycling went into administration in late 2014 and liquidation the year after.

In 2018 the pair were found guilty at Swindon Crown Court of breaching the Environmental Protection Act.

Lee Averies was given a 12-month sentence suspended for two years. David Averies was fined £4,208 plus costs of £50,000.

Lee was also given a Criminal Behaviour Order, which bans him from the industry for five years, and David was disqualified from being a director for three years.

The report will be presented to the scrutiny committee on Monday June 7 at 6pm. The public can attend the meeting which will be held at the Civic Offices.