A FURNITURE shop owner who caused an 'apocalyptic' explosion in a bungled insurance job, which left 81 people injured, was jailed for 20 years today.

A judge told Pascal Blasio: "You have exhibited human selfishness in an almost chemically pure state."

He said that the explosion he deliberately engineered was always going to be a catastrophic event which he knew and the fact no-one was killed was "a remarkable stoke of sheer good fortune and nothing else."

Blasio, 57, destroyed or damaged 63 properties by deliberately blowing up his shop Homes in Style in New Ferry, Wirral and also damaged vehicles and left people with broken bones, lacerations, burns and psychological trauma.

The human cost of the incident was revealed in poignant impact statements today from some of those affected which told of stress-related marriage breakdowns, on-going psychological problems and financial loss.

The two owners of the Complete Works dance studio, which was above the furniture store, told how they had worked for years to create their successful business and had been left out of pocket by thousands of pounds.

They also told of the psychological trauma they had suffered and their nightmares about the 100 child students who could have been killed if the explosion had occurred at a different time.

Other business owners, including Chinese restaurant proprietor, Shushao Lui, also told of the impact on their lives as did one of the customers in the restaurant, whose front window was wrecked in the blast showering them with flying glass.

Ian Brown told how he had been in the restaurant with his family and suffered injuries including spinal compression.

He said that immediately after the blast there was silence “then all hell broke lose, people screaming and shouting ‘get out, get out’.”

“I saw a huge piece of glass coming hurtling towards me and I thought, “I’m gone.”

Fortunately his wife dragged him to the ground and they managed to get out of the premises.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that the most severely injured victim was left with brain damage, facial fractures and life-changing disabilities after the explosion in March 2017.

Blasio had been found unanimously guilty of causing an explosion likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property and fraud involving an insurance claim he made after the blast.

Judge Thomas Teague, QC, said, “On Saturday 25th March 2017 you deliberately engineered a gas explosion at your failing furniture showroom in New Ferry with the object of making a dishonest claim under your insurance policy.

"You opened a valve releasing gas into the shop under mains pressure which is considerably higher than domestic pressure and switched on an electric fire before leaving the premises and any who might happen to be in the immediate vicinity at the time of the inevitable explosion to their fate.

"You had carefully planned this crime.

"I am sure that you did indeed conduct preparations for it on the day before the explosion - that accounts for the smell of gas deleted by local residents that afternoon."

He told Blasio that he had no doubt he intended to cause an explosion large enough to demolish the building for it was essential for the insurance claim that the entire contents of his shop were destroyed.

During his trial the jury heard that Blasio was on the verge of bankruptcy and the judge said he needed to destroy the shop totally to get the insurance payout he needed and to hide the face the had emptied the shop of most of his stock.

“Your scheme would not succeed without obliterating this large building, including the performing arts school on the floor above, and in the process seriously damaging surrounding premises and exposing large numbers of people to the risk of death or severe injury.”

Judge Teague continued: "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. In the event the explosion was caused was colossal."

Some nearby properties had to be demolished and airborne debris caused significant harm to building a considerable distance away including 42 in Port Sunlight where repairs cost £650,000.

He pointed out that a Wirral Council project manager described the explosion as "the most significant disaster that the council and the emergency services in the borough have faced in peacetime."

He told Blasio, who stood in the dock shaking his head: "During your trial with the dishonest help of your wife and son you had the hypocrisy to portray yourself as a victim of these events.

"You have shown no remorse or concern for anyone but yourself."

The judge said that Blasio knew that the explosion would be extremely powerful and ultimately uncontrollable.

"That in my judgement amounts to as high a degree of recklessness as it is practically possible to envisage, falling only just short of the border between recklessness and intent."

When he was sentenced to 20 years for the explosion with eight years for the fraud his wife, Sonia, who ran a florist business from his premises, broke down in tears in the public gallery.

In the trial Nigel Lawrence, QC, prosecuting, said there was a 'truly chaotic scene in the aftermath of the explosion, one of complete and utter devastation. One almost apocalyptic'.

Mr Lawrence said that about 9.15pm on March 25, 2017 "the towns of New Ferry, Port Sunlight and Rock Ferry, together with many other parts of the Wirral peninsula, Merseyside and Cheshire were rocked by a huge explosion."

The most seriously injured was Lewis Jones, 21, who "was sadly, in the wrong place at the wrong time, sat outside the furniture shop in a bus stop."

He suffered multiple skull and facial fractures, a serious brain injury and had to have part of his skull removed and sustained injuries to his lungs and kidney.

"He has been left with serious, life-changing and significant ongoing problems and disability and he remains under the care of a consultant in neuro-rehabilitation and has not been able to work since the incident."

The jury saw CCTV footage capturing the explosion, and an experienced police officer described 'a scene of devastation that he had only ever seen on news reports involving earthquakes or war zones from around the world".

The prosecutor said that Blasio's shop was served with a main gas supply, via a gas pipe that ran into the property from the gas main in the road outside.

The pipe had originally been connected to a gas meter, but this had been removed some years earlier.

The pipe was capped off with a blanking cap.

He said: "The blanking cap was deliberately removed, by hand using a tool, shortly before the explosion and the emergency control valve turned from its closed position to allow gas to escape into the furniture shop.

"This deliberate act allowed gas to gradually fill the property.

"You will hear that gas has to mix with air to reach a combustible level at which it can ignite and explodes."

The court heard that on the day of the explosion and day before witnesses saw furniture being moved from Blasio's store and also saw the shop was 'virtually empty' with a sign on the door saying it would be closed for three days.

Blasio, formerly of Wallasey, now of Gillingham, Kent, who has previous convictions for robbery and shop lifting, denied all the allegations.

David Mason, QC, defending, said today that the explosion "was a massively, massively mis-judged situation with wholly unintended consequences."

He said that Blasio, who has seven grandchildren, has been intimidated by other inmates after being remanded in custody after his conviction and that was likely to continue while serving the sentence that the public will think he thoroughly deserves.

His mental health has deteriorated over the last 18 months and his terminally ill mother will die while he is behind bars, said Mr Mason.

A gas company was handed a £350,000 fine for their part in a huge explosion which destroyed a Wirral town and injured 81 people in an insurance scam.

Contract Natural Gas Ltd (CNG), who supplied power to business properties, admitted failings including not ensuring the gas pipe had been disconnected and has previously been fined and ordered to pay costs totalling £370,000.

Assistant Chief Constable Natalie Perischine, said: "Blasio has brazenly continued to deny his involvement in the explosion which has totally devastated the lives of dozens of people and had a huge and lasting impact on the community of New Ferry.

"I hope that today means the people of New Ferry can now start to draw a line under that night and start to rebuild their lives knowing that Blasio will spend a considerable amount of time paying for his greedy and selfish actions in prison.

"This prosecution would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the team of detectives who have worked on this case, viewing hundreds of hours of CCTV footage and taking over 750 statements, including 115 victim impact statements, in order to bring a successful prosecution.

"I would also like to thank our colleagues at the Crown Prosecution Service who have worked tirelessly to bring this case to court and our colleagues at the Health and Safety Executive, Wirral Council, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and North West Ambulance Service for their assistance with this investigation.

"Finally I would again like to thank the people of New Ferry for their continued patience, support and dignity during the two-and-a-half years since this explosion.

"I know this will have been a long and difficult process but I am pleased that we have finally been able to bring this to a successful conclusion."