UK & World News
M5 Pile-Up: Manslaughter Charges Dropped
Manslaughter charges have been dropped against Geoffrey Counsell after seven people died in a pile-up on the M5 during thick fog.
The 50-year-old was in charge of a firework display in a field close to the motorway, at Taunton Rugby Club, at the time of the crash on the night of November 4, 2011.
The pile-up, which involved 34 vehicles and left 51 people injured, was described as one of Britain's worst motorway crashes.
Witnesses afterwards spoke of thick smoke causing visibility problems for motorists.
Anthony and Pamela Adams, Maggie and Michael Barton, Malcolm Beacham, Terry Brice and Kye Thomas all died.
Counsell, from Somerset, was charged with seven counts of manslaughter on October 19 last year.
But when he appeared at Bristol Crown Court, he was told the manslaughter charges were being dropped and he would instead face a charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act of failing to ensure the safety of others.
Peter Blair, prosecuting, said they had reviewed the decision after meetings with a range of experts in different disciplines.
"The outcome of the review that took place and developments, including the additional charge of failing to ensure the safety of others under the Health and Safety Act, was the decision that the prosecution will not be pursuing the manslaughter charges," he said.
Adrian Derbyshire, defending, told the court his client should "never have been charged with manslaughter".
But he added the prosecution told him it was the right decision at the time and new evidence had come forward that prompted the decision to review the case.
Terence Brice, whose lorry driver son Terry died in the crash, told Sky News outside court: "I don't think the man did it intentionally ... he lit a fire, the wind blew, blew to the motorway.
"If it had blown the other way none of us would be standing here would we? That's my opinion."
Senior investigation officer for the collision, Detective Superintendent Mike Courtiour, of Avon and Somerset Police, said: "Our investigation was meticulous and complex. We took hundreds of witness statements, examined 34 vehicles and consulted several experts, including meteorologists, pyrotechnic and forensic specialists.
"Based on this evidence the Crown Prosecution Service took a decision to charge. However, following further consideration in recent weeks they have decided to drop the manslaughter charges."
He added that while health and safety proceedings are continuing, police are not able to comment further.
The charge alleges Counsell failed to ensure he operated the firework display so as to ensure, as far as was reasonably practicable, that others who might be affected were not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
This offence carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.