Welshman on trial after fatal cigarette blaze

Welshman on trial after fatal cigarette blaze

25 November 2007

published by icwales.icnetwork.co.uk

South Africa — A WELSH salesman will this week stand trial in South Africa accused of causing the death of a tourist after setting Table Mountain on fire by tossing a burning cigarette butt from his car.

Anthony Cooper, 37, from Gowerton, Swansea, made headlines around the world last year after he was arrested for allegedly starting a massive bush fire by discarding a cigarette from his car.

The fierce blaze engulfed Table Mountain National Park in Cape Town and threatened to spread into densely populated suburbs.

Janet Chesworth, a 65-year old British tourist, died from smoke inhalation while hiking near a lower cable station along with her daughter, Linda.

Three German visitors were rescued during the inferno on January 26 whilst two tourists were airlifted to safety. Sixteen other hikers were left stranded on Table Mountain and Signal Hill. A number of homes were destroyed, as well as three cars.

On Tuesday, Cooper will stand trial at a regional court in Cape Town. He faces two charges – one under the National Veld and Forest Fire Act, in which he is alleged to have thrown a burning cigarette butt from the window of his car, and one of culpable homicide (manslaughter).

The case, which will be heard before a judge, is expected to last two days.

On Friday, lawyers representing Cooper said their client had a good defence to the charges, but declined to disclose it. If found guilty he could be jailed.

A spokesman for the firm Liddell & Weeber Inc said: “We cannot say too much at this stage because of sub judice.

“But this is a big case over here. The fire caused a lot of damage.

“Mr Cooper is from Wales and has been over here since the fire. He is doing fine and I am not sure whether his family have come over to support him.”

At a court hearing earlier this year, Cooper’s lawyer Joe Weeber said his client hoped the case would provide lessons for the future.

At the time, he said: “Whatever the outcome of this case, he (Cooper) hopes the hearing will result in measures being taken to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy.”

Mr Weeber said Cooper, when he realised a fire had started, allegedly through his own actions, immediately dialled the emergency services.

He said: “The fire and tragedy could have been averted had there been a prompt response to his call.”

At the time of the blaze a tourist guide was quoted as saying he had witnessed a man flicking a cigarette-end out of a car window in the area where the fire is believed to have started.

The guide noted the car registration number and informed the police.

Cooper, who has also worked in Brighton, was arrested after being seen by mountain rangers in the vicinity of the fire. If found guilty, he could also face a civil claim pursued against him by the City of Cape Town.

Following the blaze, Mayor Helen Zille ordered officials to hotly pursue smokers found guilty of tossing their cigarette ends out of car windows, with a view to recouping money for fire-related expenses.

At the time she said: “Yes, we must sue. We must make sure people pay. And the British visitor has to pay in pounds.”

Cooper’s lawyer said: “If he is found guilty, there will be a civil case against him which could result in an award running into millions.

“Obviously, he won’t be able to pay if he does not have the money.”

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