Smoke from a Bonfire Night display that drifted across the M5 leading to a fatal pile-up, appeared to motorists as if “someone tipped a can of paint over their windscreen”, a jury has been told.
Somerset fireworks organiser Geoffrey Counsell is charged with failing to ensure the safety of others after some 1,100 fireworks exploded in fifteen minutes causing a “complete white-out” near J25 for Taunton, according to prosecutors.
The court was shown mobile phone videos to demonstrate the smog, which obscured some of the fireworks themselves.
On November 4, 2011, 34 vehicles smashed into each other, including many articulated lorries. Seven motorists were killed and 51 were hurt – many seriously, with life-changing injuries.
At the time of the crash Counsell, 51, of Firestorm Pyrotechnics, was holding the fireworks display for approximately 1,000 spectators, just 200 metres away from the motorway, at Taunton Rugby Club.
Prosecuting barrister Peter Blair said witnesses had “never seen so much smoke” and told how “the smoke just built up and built up, stayed low and lingered and just wasn’t being dispersed”.
A road traffic investigator concluded that there was effectively “zero visibility on the M5″ which meant there was “no opportunity for drivers to have reacted and avoided an object”, the court was told.
The Crown Prosecution Service alleges that Counsell breached Health and Safety Laws and “failed in his duty to plan effectively for the display and failed to provide for its safe delivery on the night, failing to take appropriate or any action to monitor the impact of the display”.
The jury was told by Mr Blair that there were “serious weaknesses in Mr Counsell’s approach to the display” in terms of health and safety.
Counsell denies the charge.
If found guilty he could face a maximum penalty of two years in jail.
Earlier this year seven counts of manslaughter were dropped against Counsell after the CPS found there was not sufficient evidence to pursue prosecution.
The trial is expected to last six weeks