Torment goes on for M5 crash families after manslaughter charges dropped against fireworks display organiser
Relatives of the seven people who died in an horrific pile-up on the M5 said their torment goes on after manslaughter charges against a firework display organiser were dropped.
The Crown Prosecution Service made the surprise admission at a court hearing yesterday.
Lawyers representing fireworks organiser Geoffrey Counsell said he should not have been charged in the first place and questions will now be directed at the CPS as to the wisdom of it bringing the charges at all.
The terrible smash, which involved 34 vehicles, has been described as one of the worst British motorway crashes in memory.
Anthony and Pamela Adams, Maggie and Michael Barton, Malcolm Beacham, Terry Brice and Kye Thomas all died in the incident, which happened during dreadful weather on November 4, 2011.
It also left more than 50 injured.
Mr Counsell, 50, from Somerset, was operating a firework display in a field close to the motorway, at Taunton Rugby Club, at the time and on October 19 last year was charged with seven counts of manslaughter.
But yesterday at Bristol Crown Court the charges were dropped following a review of the case and he now faces being charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act with failing to ensure the safety of others – a charge which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
Leaving court, Tonia White, 49, whose parents Mr and Mrs Adams were killed on their way back from visiting the family in Taunton, said the torment for the families goes on.
She said: “It’s been a very traumatic experience.
“However we’re confident in the justice system and although the CPS have discontinued the charges of manslaughter, we are led to believe there will be health and safety issues to address and are confident the outcome will remain the same.”
Mrs White was supported by her 24-year-old daughter, Terri, as she fought back tears.
She said she could not describe how she feels about the manslaughter charges being dropped.
Asked if the torment is still going on she said: “Yes, very much so, very much so.”
Jean Brice, from Bedminster, Bristol – whose eldest son died in the crash – left court with her husband, 83-year-old Terry Brice.
The 79-year-old said: “It’s a very sensitive case, but what can we say.
“It won’t stop the cruelty and misery that we two 80-year-olds have to go through for the rest of our days.”
Friends and family of the deceased filled the public gallery in the court room to hear the charges dropped.
Peter Blair, prosecuting, said they had reviewed the decision following 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.
“It is the prosecution’s intention that Mr Counsell will be proceeded against under the Health and Safety Act.”
Adrian Derbyshire, defending, told the court his client should “never have been charged with manslaughter”. But he added the prosecution had told him it was the right decision at the time and new evidence had come forward that prompted the decision to review the case.
Judge Neil Ford QC said the case would now be marked as a closed file and Mr Counsell left court without comment.
Those that lost their lives were lorry drivers Mr Brice, from Patchway, South Gloucestershire, and Mr Thomas, from Gunnislake, Cornwall, with father and daughter Mr and Miss Barton, from Windsor, Berkshire, grandparents Mr and Mrs Adams, from Newport, South Wales, and battle re-enactor Mr Beacham, from Woolavington, near Bridgwater.