M5 crash trial: Fireworks spectator statements 'ignored', court hears

Somerset County Gazette: The scene the morning after the fatal M5 crash. The scene the morning after the fatal M5 crash.

EVIDENCE alleging smoke from a fireworks display obstructed the view of drivers moments before a massive pile-up on the M5 near Taunton has been questioned.

A jury heard statistics compiled from spectator statements at Taunton Rugby Club on the night which saw seven people killed in the crash north of junction 25 were not “robust.”

The evidence was challenged by defence lawyers at Bristol Crown Court as the trial of fireworks boss Geoffrey Counsell, pictured below, entered its third week.

Mr Counsell, 51, of Ashill denies a single charge under the Health and Safety Act in relation to the display he staged at the rugby club.

He is expected to take to the witness stand next week as the defence case begins.

Giving evidence on Tuesday (December 3), Met Office scientist Richard Stretch analysed the wind direction and other weather conditions on the night of the crash on November 4, 2011.

He told the court photographs taken of the display tend to show “puffs of smoke” mixing with fog and heading in the direction of the motorway 200m away.

Mr Stretch said: “I think we are looking at smoke or perhaps a mix of smoke and fog, but I think it’s generally smoke.”

The jury heard the expert looked at 187 statements given to police by spectators and drivers.

Mr Stretch said two thirds of the spectators backed his view that smoke was drifting towards the motorway, but during cross examination, Adrian Darbishire, defending Mr Counsell, said this was not an accurate reflection.

Mr Darbishire referred to a meeting of Met Office experts and police in December 2012 at which it was brought up that not all statements had been used.

“There were a lot of people from whom statements had not been taken,” he said.

Somerset County Gazette: IN COURT: Geoffrey Counsell

The court was told that out of a pool of 28 spectators, 17 believed smoke drifted away from the motorway – but only one of these was included in the Mr Stretch’s report.

Prosecutors allege Mr Counsell, acting under his business Firestorm Pyrotechnics, did not carry out health and safety duties properly and should have stopped the display earlier.

They claim thick smog blocked the view of drivers, causing the 34-vehicle pile-up.

Father and daughter Michael and Maggie Barton, from Berkshire, grandparents Anthony and Pamela Adams, from south Wales, and Malcolm Beacham, from Woolavington, died in the crash along with Terry Brice from South Gloucestershire and Kye Thomas from Cornwall.

The case continues.

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