M5 crash trial: Cleared fireworks boss Geoffrey Counsell "hugely relieved" (From Somerset County Gazette)
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M5 crash trial: Cleared fireworks boss Geoffrey Counsell "hugely relieved"
This live event has finished
- Geoffrey Counsell, 51, cleared of health and safety breach over fireworks display.
- Judge directs jury to return not guilty verdict.
- Mr Justice Simon said prosecution case "weighted heavily on hindsight".
- Seven people died in one of Britain's worst motorway crashes two years ago.
- Mr Counsell speaks of relief after "appalling experience".
4:17pm Tue 10 Dec 13
TDBC and A & S Police did no more than their job. They investigated and presented their findings to the CPS. They and they alone make the decision on prosecution.
They have clearly let public interest override their responsibility to ensure sufficient evidence for a conviction existed. They should be made to explain their ridiculous decsion.
Defence lawyers told Taunton Deane Council officials the prosecution against Geoffrey Counsell was flawed several times, it has emerged.
In his statement read outside court, Mr Counsell told reporters: “Prior to the proceedings being brought, those representing me wrote to Taunton Deane highlighting the obvious flaws in the case. Those concerns were simply ignored.
“Again, in August of this year, those representing me set out in court documents the very issues which caused the case to come to a halt today. Nevertheless, the prosecution continued."
Taunton Deane has told the County Gazette it has budgeted £46,000 for investigation costs, but the CPS is responsible for the "majority" of costs.
Barry Hughes, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS South West, said:
“This was an extremely complex case and we worked closely with Taunton Deane Borough Council and sought evidence from experts and many eye witnesses before making the decision to charge Geoffrey Counsell with breaching the Health and Safety Act.
“The burden falls on us to prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge was not satisfied that the evidence available passed this high threshold and has directed the jury to acquit Mr Counsell. We accept this decision.
“Over the last few weeks the jury has heard from many of those present on the night of the incident. I would like to thank them for coming forward to give evidence as I know how hard it must have been to relive the events of that night.
“I would also like to thank Avon and Somerset police, who conducted a thorough and detailed investigation.
“Our thoughts today are with all those involved in and affected by this tragic incident.”
Mr Counsell says he is "hugely relieved" his "appalling experience" is over.
In his statement, he added: "I recognise my misfortune is as nothing compared with that of those bereaved and injured as a result of that accident.
"Sitting in the dock over the last few weeks, I have been struck by the quiet dignity of the families of those affected by the crash as they listened, with me, to the evidence as it unfolded in court."
Taunton Deane MP Jeremy Browne said: "This brings to a legal end the terrible events of two years ago.
"But the families affected will live with the consequences of that appalling night forever.
"Although the evidence didn't support a prosecution, one legacy of what happened should still be a continued effort to improve road safety.
"Britain has low casualty rates compared to other European countries, but I have written to the Transport Secretary asking him to consider what more can be done to improve visibility and remove distractions along our motorway network."
A statement was read on Mr Counsell's behalf by his solicitor Gavin Reese.
Elaine Adams, daughter of victims Anthony and Pamela Adams and sister of Tonia White, from Taunton, said she is "upset and devastated."
She added: "Perhaps it should have gone a bit further and the judge should have made a more informed decision.
"I am very cross about what has happened and a lot of money has been wasted."
10:58am Tue 10 Dec 13
A judge with common sense , pity its taken so long
Media waits for Geoffrey Counsell outside Bristol CC #M5crashtrial http://t.co/EFvYy4nisv— @GazetteMMarsh 10 December 2013
@GazetteACameron good, glad to hear it :)— @AmandaKingstonx 10 December 2013
Hoping to hear from Mr Counsell shortly. His defence team says a statement is being prepared.
10:11am Tue 10 Dec 13
Amazing news that Geoff Counsell has been cleared! He should never never have had to stand trial!
Taunton Deane Council says the issue of costs is still to be determined.
A statement released by Taunton Deane Council just now reads as follows:
The acquittal of Geoffrey Counsell, on the direction of the Hon Mr Justice Simon at his trial at Bristol Crown Court, marks the end of a lengthy investigation by Avon and Somerset Police and Taunton Deane Borough Council.
After the decision, Leader of the Council, Cllr John Williams, said: “I hope that the end of Crown Court proceedings brings some closure for the families, friends and colleagues of those who lost their lives or suffered injury in the terrible events on November 4 2011.
“The Council is now seeking to work closely with the relevant authorities to see if the current guidance regarding large fireworks displays, such as the one at Taunton Rugby Club, is appropriate. We also pledge our support for any changes that may be deemed necessary.
“Our primary concern is to minimise the risks of this type of unimaginable incident happening again.
“On behalf of the Council, I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to the families of the bereaved and the families and friends of all those affected by these terrible events.
“I would also pay tribute to all those who showed such bravery at the scene, to all the emergency services and to staff at the hospitals where the injured were treated.
“There will be a Coroner’s inquest in due course and the Coroner may make recommendations having heard the evidence laid before the inquest.”
Mr Counsell was charged with a single offence of breaching sections 3(2) & 33(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974:
s.3(2) “It shall be the duty of every self-employed person to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that he and other persons (not being his employees) who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”
s.33(1) “It is an offence for a person –
(a) to fail to discharge a duty to which he is subject by virtue of sections 2 to 7...”
Schedule 3A “Penalty on conviction on indictment – imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.”
There is a statutory defence provided by section 40 of the Act:-
s.40 “In any proceedings for an offence ... consisting of a failure to comply with a duty ... to do something ... so far as is reasonably practicable, ... it shall be for the accused to prove ... that it was ... not reasonably practicable to do more than was in fact done to satisfy the duty ...”
Taunton Deane Council is the Enforcing Authority under the Health and Safety (Enforcing Authority) Regulations 1998 in respect of health and safety matters at Taunton Rugby Football Club.
Following the accident that occurred on the M5 following the fireworks display, Taunton Deane Borough Council had a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and related guidance to investigate the accident as an incident that had occurred or arisen from activities undertaken at Taunton Rugby Football Club.
Since the incident on the 4 November 2011, Taunton Deane Borough Council has been working with Avon & Somerset Constabulary in accordance with the Protocol for Liaison on Work Related Deaths.
The case was originally investigated by Avon and Somerset constabulary and the decision to initiate a prosecution was therefore made by the Crown Prosecution Service. Due to the nature of the resulting charges, Taunton Deane Borough Council took over primacy of the investigation from the police as the authority responsible for enforcement of offences of this type. The Crown Prosecution Service acted on behalf of Taunton Deane to present the outcome of the joint investigation to the court.
A FIREWORKS boss accused of breaching health and safety laws on the night of a motorway pile-up which killed seven people has been cleared after a judge threw the case out.
Judge Mr Justice Simon said the prosecution case against Geoffrey Counsell was “weighted heavily on hindsight” and directed the jury to return a not guilty verdict this morning (December 10).
Mr Counsell, 51, was charged with failing to ensure the safety of others in relation to a display he organised at Taunton Rugby Club on November 4, 2011.
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