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 yesterday 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.
“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”. 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. Judge Neil Ford QC said the case would now be marked as a closed file. Counsell left court without comment.
Senior investigation officer for the M5 collision Detective Superintendent Mike Courtiour, of Avon and Somerset Police, said: “TBased 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.
Following the court appearance, the Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement that it constantly keeps cases under review.
Barry Hughes, chief crown prosecutor for CPS South West, said: “Mr Counsell will shortly be charged with an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act.” This offence carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.