Death charges dropped over pile-up carnage

Manslaughter charges against a firework display organiser accused after seven people died in a pile-up on the M5 have been dropped.

The horror smash 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 on November 4 2011, which left more than 50 injured.

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Geoffrey Counsell, 50, from Somerset, was operating the 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.

Yesterday at Bristol Crown Court the charges were dropped following a review 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.

The collision involved 34 vehicles and witnesses spoke of thick smoke causing visibility problems for motorists.

Peter Blair, prosecuting, said they had reviewed the decision following meetings with a range of experts in different disciplines.

“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.