North Yorkshire company warns of illegal fireworks being sold as second lockdown scuppers public displays

People are being warned against buying illegal fireworks this year as sales have boomed due to the cancellation of public displays.

Any plans to celebrate this year's bonfire night have been dampened by the second national lockdown coming into force, and thousands more people have been buying their own fireworks and sparklers to mark the occasion at home.

But the industry's biggest trade body has warned of the dangers of buying illegal fireworks which are shipped from places such as the Czech Republic and Poland.

These may breach UK legal noise levels while the instructions may not be translated into English, presenting hazards for those lighting them at home.

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Pre-lockdown fireworks at a village in Yorkshire last night

Steve Raper, a consultant with Bright Star Fireworks in Melmerby, North Yorkshire and chair of British Fireworks Association (BFA), said more people seemed to be buying the “traditional box of fireworks”.

He also sounded a health and safety warning to people turning to online retailers to get fireworks, which might even be illegal under the UK’s tight explosives regulations.

“Many do not conform to noise standards, and the instructions aren’t in English so you won’t know fuse timings, for example, and that could cause a spike in injuries,” he said.

Mr Raper said the problem was not new, citing a 2019 example where a flight shipment of 20kgs of illegal fireworks was uncovered at an unnamed airport in England during a routine customs check, and added it was "critical" people sourced fireworks from established UK retailers.

Fireworks sales this year have boomed as public displays are cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic

A rise in sales started as soon as the UK’s autumn fireworks season began on October 15 and the relaxation of sales licensing rules, he added.

Mr Raper said there had been a “robust start” to trade, with people “letting their hair down” and keen to mark Bonfire Night and Diwali, the Indian festival of lights on November 14.

He also branded recent incidents of anti-social behaviour with fireworks, such as those seen in the West Midlands where cars and police officers have been targeted, as “abhorrent”.

“Many of the fireworks being used in those situations will be illegal, brought on the internet.

Fireworks sales this year have boomed as public displays are cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic

“Because of Covid and lockdown, a lot of people have moved from buying fireworks over the counter at a trusted retailer to getting them online.”

Tom Smith, the secretary of the British Pyrotechnists’ Association (BPA), which represents the majority of the major display companies, said only 5% of the planned big fireworks shows had taken place this year.

“If it went on until November next year, I can see 80 per cent of display companies giving up,” he said.

“The game we’re in, realistically it will be one of the last things to return to normality.”

Chris Pearce, managing director Jubilee Fireworks based in Kingswinford, West Midlands, said: “It’s been a disastrous year to be quite honest. We anticipate a fall in turnover of 80%-90%.

“We lost a majority of our shows and the summer was equally bad.”

The firm had not anticipated the timing of the second wave, adding “the November season is pretty well dead for us”.

He said the firm, which makes 80 per cent of its business by putting on professional displays, had done five this year compared to 200 in a normal year.

Mr Pearce added it would “require some very careful management” of finances to survive the next year, adding there were “bound to be casualties” in the trade.

It comes as police forces and fire services across Yorkshire issue a warning against fireworks, urging the public to enjoy the evening responsibly.

Chief Superintendent Sarah Poolman, for South Yorkshire Police, said: “Last weekend, youths threw lit fireworks into a police car while our officers were in it. Thankfully the officers managed to get out of the vehicle unharmed but this could have been a lot worse. Damage was caused to the car, which had to be taken off the road while being repaired.

“Youths were also reported to be aiming lit fireworks at swans at Frecheville Pond. Teenagers located nearby were searched and one was found to be in possession of fireworks, he was referred to the Youth Offending Team.

“Parents are responsible for their children and I continue to urge you to speak to them about the dangers of fireworks and the results of their actions, gaining a criminal record at a young age can have serious implications for their future.”

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