A furniture shop owner has appeared in court accused of causing a gas explosion which devastated a Wirral town and injured 33 people.
Pascal Blasio was arrested in May last year as part of an investigation into the explosion in New Ferry, Birkenhead, on Saturday, March 25, 2017.
Two people were seriously injured in the explosion, which happened in Bebington Road shortly after 9pm, with 31 others described as "walking wounded".
The 56-year-old businessman - who now lives in Gillingham, Kent - is charged with causing an explosion likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property.
He is also alleged to have made a fraudulent insurance claim to the National Farmers Union Mutual Insurance Society, on or around March 28 last year.
According to the charge, Blasio dishonestly made false representations that a claim under a policy of insurance for losses or damages resulting from an explosion was genuine and that he was not responsible for the explosion.
He is listed by Companies House as the director of Homes In Style Ltd, a furniture store based at the address at the centre of the explosion.
The discount furniture store and a dance studio at the same address - owned by a separate business - were both destroyed in the huge blast.
Contract Natural Gas Limited (CNG) which supplies gas to businesses, is charged with failing to discharge general health and safety duty to a person other than an employee.
Blasio, with a shaved head, a dark brown beard and wearing a blue shirt and jeans, appeared in the dock at Liverpool Crown Court this afternoon.
He spoke only to confirm his personal details and plead not guilty to both charges against him during the short plea and trial preparation hearing.
CNG also denied any wrongdoing and the court heard both Blasio and the company will stand trial on January 7 next year.
Nicholas Johnson, QC, prosecuting, said the trial was estimated to last around four weeks.
Judge Clement Goldstone, QC, remanded Blasio on unconditional bail until the trial.