Fireworks organiser rejects health and safety charge in M5 crash-deaths case

The organiser of a fireworks display next to the scene of a motorway crash in which seven people died and which was described as “one of the worst in living memory” has pleaded not guilty to a health and safety charge in relation to the incident.

Geoffrey Counsell, from Somerset, entered the plea at Bristol Crown Court yesterday (9 April). He is accused of failing to operate the firework display – held on 4 November 2011 at Taunton Rugby Club, next to the M5 motorway – so as to ensure the safety of others who may be affected by it.

The pile-up on the motorway involved 34 vehicles and left seven dead and 51 injured. Following an investigation by Avon and Somerset Police, the Crown Prosecution Service authorised seven charges of manslaughter against Mr Counsell.

However, it dropped those charges in January this year, saying that based on advice it had received from “a leading expert on the law of negligence”, as well as additional information provided by expert witnesses and police investigators, “it has been decided that there is insufficient evidence to continue with a prosecution for manslaughter”.

Barry Hughes, chief Crown prosecutor, said: “Mr Counsell will be charged with an offence under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 [which] carries a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment.”
Speaking in January, Mr Counsell’s barrister, Adrian Darbishire QC*, said his client should never have been charged with manslaughter.

Following the not-guilty plea entered yesterday, Mr Counsell was bailed ahead of his next appearance at Bristol Crown Court later this year.