Jan 15 2013 By Cheryl Mullin
MANSLAUGHTER charges against a firework display organiser accused after seven people died in a pile-up on the M5 have been dropped.
Geoffrey Counsell, 50, from Somerset, was operating 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 incident, which involved 34 vehicles, was described as one of the worst British motorway crashes in memory.
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 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 following meetings with a range of experts in different disciplines.
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.
Senior investigation officer for the M5 collision, Detective Superintendent Mike Courtiour, of Avon and Somerset Police, said: "The collision on the M5 in November 2011 was one of the worst in living memory
“Fifty one people were injured and seven people tragically lost their lives. We launched a comprehensive investigation immediately after to establish the full circumstances which led to the collision.
“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 they are not able to comment any further.