A furniture shop owner has been found guilty of deliberately causing an explosion that injured 81 people, in what was an “insurance job gone wrong”.
Pascal Blasio, 57, of Gillingham, Kent, had denied being behind the “almost apocalyptic” blast at his shop in New Ferry, Merseyside, in 2017.
The blast damaged 63 properties and left a man with life-changing injuries.
Judge Thomas Teague QC said the jury at Liverpool Crown Court saw through Blasio’s “humbug of dishonesty”.
Jurors unanimously found him guilty of causing an explosion likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property and fraud, in relation to an insurance claim. He will be sentenced on 23 October.
The court heard his business, Homes in Style, in Bebington Road, was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time of the blast on 25 March 2017.
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.
He told the jurors it was a miracle nobody was killed.
The most seriously injured was Lewis Jones, 21, who was sitting at a bus stop outside the shop, “sadly, in the wrong place at the wrong time”.
He suffered multiple fractures, a serious brain injury and injuries to his lungs and kidney, leaving him “literally clinging to life”, Mr Lawrence said.
He told the court a blanking cap on an old gas pipe had been removed and the “deliberate act allowed gas to gradually fill the property”.
Investigators believe an electric fire found in the debris of the shop may have caused the ignition.
The court heard that on the day of the explosion, witnesses saw furniture being moved from Blasio’s store, leaving it “virtually empty”.
But just two working days after the explosion a claim was made to the insurers for £50,000 worth of furniture stock.
‘Physical and mental scars’
Pascal Blasio was “nothing short of reckless”, Assistant Chief Constable Natalie Perischine of Merseyside Police said.
“It is only by sheer luck that nobody was killed.
“Over two-and-a-half years on, dozens of people are still continuing to recover from the physical and mental scars they suffered that night and many people have still not been able to return to their homes and businesses.”
She added: “New Ferry has, in effect, been left to pick up the pieces of Blasio’s actions.”
The trial was the second on the charges Blasio faced as an earlier jury failed to reach verdicts.