Tributes To Stafford Fire Victims

The families of two men believed to have died in a fire at a fireworks warehouse have spoken of their devastation.

Simon Hillier, 41, was described as a ``fantastic son and brother'' and a ``terrific dad'' while relatives of Stewart Staples, 57, said he was a ``devoted family man''.

The men are thought to have perished in the blaze at the SP Plastics industrial unit on the Baswich Industrial Estate in Stafford on Thursday.

Mr Hillier's family said in a statement: ``Whilst we are still waiting for a formal identification to be made, as a family we are resigned to the fact that we will not see Simon again.

``We are all very proud of his sporting achievements and in everything else he did in life.

``He was a fantastic son and brother and a terrific dad, we all miss him dearly.''

It has emerged that Mr Staples, a married father-of-three and grandfather - worked as a laboratory manager at Staffordshire County Council.

His family said: ``Stewart Staples was a devoted family man with a wife, three children and a young grandson.

``He was raised in Great Wyrley, a Cannock Grammar schoolboy, before going on to Bradford University to study Civil Engineering.

``He worked for Staffordshire County Council Highways Department for 26 years, lately as the Laboratory Manager and Geotechnical Expert.

``He was a keen golfer and a member of Brocton Golf Club.

``He was also a member of the RSPB and Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. He was a lifelong Walsall football team supporter. One of his favourite things was to walk over Cannock Chase with his family.

``We as a family are totally shocked and devastated about Stewart's death. We need to come to terms with the tragic loss of someone who was a devoted and much loved family man.

``We ask that the press respect our wishes to grieve alone in peace.''

Detectives believe Mr Hillier was working at the site, while it is thought Mr Staples was a customer. Both men are from Hednesford.

Mr Hillier was a kickboxer who trained youngsters at the Featherstone Kickboxing Club in Wolverhampton, according to reports.

A post on the club's Facebook page said: ``To all students, I know some of you have heard what has happened to a very close dear friend of ours who goes by the name of Simon Hillier.

``Others may have not tho, we have no official details on what happened at the explosion last night that he was involved in. During this difficult time we hope you can respect our privacy. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.''

Another message said: ``Can't even describe the heartache of losing this legend of a man!

``Great man, great friend & of course a great fighter. You'll be missed by those who knew you and loved you... SIMPLY THE BEST, gone but never forgotten, love you always.''

Superintendent Ian Coxhead said: ``Sadly, our inquiries have placed both men at the scene when the fire started.

``Our sympathies remain with the families involved and we're doing everything we can to help them at this distressing time.

``It is believed Simon was working at the premises while it's thought Stewart was a customer.''

He said the ``dangerous scene'' remains cordoned off while fire service and police investigators continue their probe.

Mr Coxhead said: ``We anticipate this will be a lengthy and complex investigation, our work to establish the cause of the fire is going to take considerable time.

``We've been able to reduce the size of the cordon and hope that all neighbouring businesses will have access to reopen on Monday.

``Officers at the scene will keep the affected community updated.''

The industrial unit off Tilcon Avenue, which is just a few hundred yards from 150 homes, had been used to store what police described as ``a significant volume of fireworks''.

However, the local council confirmed there have been ``no safety issues'' with SP Plastics, and it had been licensed to sell fireworks for four years.

Dramatic footage of the fire showed thick plumes of smoke and bursts of fireworks exploding in all directions from the building - a scene described as ``horrendous'' by bystanders.

Philip Atkins, leader of Staffordshire County Council, said: ``We're incredibly shocked and saddened to hear of the tragic death of Stewart Staples, our highways laboratory manager at Staffordshire County Council.

``Stewart worked in our highways department for 26 years, and both as a professional and a person was one of the most respected, trusted and well-liked members of our staff, and a true gentleman.

``His friends and colleagues here at the county council will miss him terribly and our hearts go out to Stewart's family.''

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