Manslaughter charges dropped against M5 fireworks display organiser
MANSLAUGHTER charges brought against a fireworks display organiser after a crash on the M5 which killed seven people, including a Bristol lorry driver, have been dropped.
Geoffrey Counsell, 50, had been in charge of the display at Taunton Rugby Club, near the junction where a multi-vehicle pile-up happened on November 4, 2011.
Counsell had been accused of causing the death of all seven crash victims, including Patchway lorry driver Terry Brice, right. But at Bristol Crown Court yesterday Counsell, of Ashill, Somerset, heard that manslaughter charges would be discontinued after a review by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Peter Blair QC, prosecuting, said a "firm decision" had now been made to prosecute Counsell under the Health and Safety at Work Act for failing to ensure the safety of others.
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This offence carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
It is alleged smoke blown from the display may have caused the 34-vehicle pile-up on the northbound carriageway near junction 25.
As well as the seven fatalities, 51 people were injured in the crash and the motorway was closed for days.
The Recorder of Bristol, Neil Ford QC, declined a request by Mr Blair to use his powers to sit as a magistrate so Counsell could be charged and committed to Crown court immediately.
Adrian Derbyshire QC, defending, had discouraged the judge from taking that course, saying the defence should have time to "consider the implications" of any new charge.
Mr Derbyshire added that his view was that Counsell "should never have been charged with manslaughter".
Judge Ford said: "I think it would be more appropriate for the case to proceed through magistrates in the normal way allowing appropriate time for the prosecution to be digested by Mr Counsell and for him to receive advice."
After the case Crown Prosecution Service chief prosecutor for the South West, Barry Hughes, said the decision to drop the manslaughter charge was due to there being insufficient evidence to proceed with it and had been made after taking "further advice from a leading expert on the law of negligence".
Counsell was bailed and left the court without comment.