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A businessman who caused a "colossal" explosion at his furniture shop in an insurance scam has been jailed for 20 years.
Pascal Blasio, 57, caused a blast at his business Homes in Style furniture in New Ferry, in the Wirral, injuring 81 people.
The explosion happened at about 9.15pm on March 25, 2017, when Blasio opened a valve in his shop to release gas and switched on an electric fire, the court heard.
Blasio, now of Gillingham, Kent, was found guilty of causing an explosion likely to endanger life, and of fraud, over an insurance claim for more than £50,000.
Sentencing him, Judge Thomas Teague QC said he "exhibited human selfishness in an almost chemically pure state".
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Judge Teague told him: "You did not care who else might suffer as long as you could swindle the insurers out of £50,000, money to which you knew perfectly well you had no right."
As well as causing dozens of people to suffer injuries, the blast destroyed or damaged 63 properties.
Judge Teague called the blast "colossal" and said it "annihilated" the furniture store as well as the dance studio above it, and effectively reduced an entire block of buildings "to rubble".
One of the victims was Lewis Jones, who was waiting at a bus stop when the blast happened and suffered a serious brain injury.
Henry Riding, prosecuting, said he was left "clinging to life".
Mr Jones, who was 21 at the time of the explosion, was at the court along with members of the community.
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Ian Brown had been eating in Lan's Chinese restaurant across the road from the shop when the explosion happened and likened it to a terror attack.
He said: "It was a complete scene of devastation and there was complete pandemonium. The air was thick with dust, you couldn't see."
Kim Ashwin, one of the owners of Complete Works Performance School, which was above the shop, said if the explosion had happened earlier in the day or on any other night of the week, there could have been 100 children and their families inside.
In a statement, Neil Mitchell, from Wirral Council environmental services, said: "The explosion in March 2017 was probably the most significant disaster that the council and emergency services in the borough had ever faced in peacetime."
Blasio's lawyer, David Mason, said the grandfather-of-seven had suffered intimidation from inmates in prison while on remand.
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He said: "Mr Blasio has lost everything now, his family will suffer."
Blasio was sentenced to 20 years for the explosion and a concurrent sentence of eight years for the fraud.
Speaking outside court, resident Christopher Power said: "We have a long way to go. Yes, it may be closure on this part, but we have to live now and we have to rebuild our lives.
"He took away our lives and that's upsetting."
Assistant Chief Constable of Merseyside Police Natalie Perischine said: "I sincerely hope that the sentencing of Blasio today means people of New Ferry can now start to draw a line under that fateful night and begin to rebuild their lives in the knowledge that Blasio will spend a considerable amount of time in prison paying for his greedy and selfish actions."
Blasio initially stood trial in January but the jury was discharged because they were unable to reach a verdict.
A retrial began last month, and lasted three weeks. The jury's verdict was unanimous.
Before his trial, Contract Natural Gas pleaded guilty to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, by failing to ensure that gas supply pipes were disconnected.
The company was fined £320,000 and ordered to pay £50,000 towards the prosecution costs.
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Insurance fraudster jailed for 20 years after causing 'colossal' explosion on Merseyside
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