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Bridge Point explosion trial: Court hears two 'utterly reckless' cannabis oil producers stored 200 butane canisters in flat

PUBLISHED: 12:00 17 October 2019 | UPDATED: 12:53 17 October 2019

Emergency services at the scene of an explosion at Bridge Point, Hornchurch. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images/Victoria Jones

Emergency services at the scene of an explosion at Bridge Point, Hornchurch. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images/Victoria Jones

PA Wire/PA Images/Victoria Jones

An explosion and fire at a Hornchurch block of flats was caused by the "utterly reckless behaviour" of two men trying to make cannabis oil, a court has heard.

Emergency services at the scene of an explosion at the flats in Hornchurch. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images/Victoria JonesEmergency services at the scene of an explosion at the flats in Hornchurch. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images/Victoria Jones

The prosecution began its opening arguments at the trial of Ben Beavis and Curtis Lepley at Snaresbrook Crown Court on Wednesday, October 16.

Both men are charged with arson in connection with the explosion and fire, which took place at the Bridge Point flats, A127 Southend Arterial Road, at around 5pm on January 23, 2017.

The court was told that the incident led to 30 people being evacuated, with five people being injured and two women and a child having to be rescued.

Ken Millett, prosecuting, told the court that at the centre of the fire and explosion was the ground floor Flat 12, occupied at the time by Mr Lepley.

Emergency services at the scene of an explosion at the Bridge Point flats in Hornchurch. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images/Victoria JonesEmergency services at the scene of an explosion at the Bridge Point flats in Hornchurch. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images/Victoria Jones

He said: "This explosion and later fire we suggest was a result of the utterly reckless behaviour of each of the two men."

Mr Millett told the court that the men had acquired and stored more than 200 butane gas canisters in the ground floor flat "in their quest to make cannabis oil".

He showed photographs to the jury of damage caused by the blast, adding the cost of damage was around £1.3million.

"People are lucky to have got out alive from this," he said.

A member of the emergency services at the scene of an explosion at a building in Hornchurch. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images/Victoria JonesA member of the emergency services at the scene of an explosion at a building in Hornchurch. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images/Victoria Jones

Among those injured in the explosion, Mr Millett said, was Bobbie Leonard, who was sitting in a nearby ground floor flat in the same development.

She was struck on the back by a heavy mirror and the prosecutor said she is still affected by her injuries.

The court heard that a search by a specialist team was undertaken in March 2017.

During the search, the team found a number of items in Flat 12, including a burnt book on the cultivation of cannabis, a cooker hob, glass dishes, a metal cannabis grinder and greaseproof paper with cannabis oil on it.

Emergency services at the scene of an explosion at the block of flats in Hornchurch. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images/Victoria JonesEmergency services at the scene of an explosion at the block of flats in Hornchurch. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images/Victoria Jones

"The items you need for making cannabis oil, the experts tell us," Mr Millett said.

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The court heard that Mr Beavis, 28, described as a "close" friend of Mr Lepley, 36, called 999 after the explosion.

But prosecutors say he then called his mother to collect him from Harold Hill before taking him to Queen's Hospital in Romford.

At the hospital, Mr Millett said Mr Beavis gave the false name of Ben Williams before telling staff he had been in the street when a butane canister exploded which had caused his injuries.

"We suggest a butane explosion being the cause of his injuries is particularly revealing. We suggest he was distancing himself from Flat 12 as he knew he had been there with Mr Lepley and involved in reckless activities."

The court heard Mr Beavis later spoke to police at the hospital, giving his correct name, and said he had been to "his friend Curt's house and a big explosion happened".

But he denied knowing how the explosion had happened.

Mr Lepley, who the court heard had occupied the flat since 2004, initially told paramedics at the scene that he was in the flat next door at the time of the explosion.

He suffered burns, fractured ribs and a punctured lung.

Mr Lepley later told police he was in the flat with Beavis when the explosion happened but did not know what caused it.

He gave a prepared statement in which he said he had acquired 208 Clipper refill lighters and taken them back to his flat after being unable to store them elsewhere.

Mr Lepley admitted that an explosion took place but that he did not intend it to happen.

Mr Millett said: "We do not say they intended but they are very reckless in their activities.

"This was a serious incident which common sense suggests could have resulted in fatalities."

Mr Beavis, of Church Road, Harold Wood, and Mr Lepley, of St John Close, Collier Row, both deny arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

The trial continues.

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