A fireworks contractor in charge of a display held on the night of a massive motorway crash in which seven people died and 51 were injured has been cleared of breaching health and safety laws.
A judge directed a jury at Bristol Crown Court to find Geoffrey Counsell, 51, not guilty of a single charge of failing to ensure the safety of others contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Fireworks boss Geoffrey Counsell has been cleared of all charges in relation to a fireworks display beside the M5 on the night of a fatal pile-up near Taunton
The charge alleged that Mr Counsell, of Ashill in Somerset, failed to ensure he operated the firework display so as to ensure, as far as was reasonably practicable, that others who might be affected were not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
Mr Counsell was originally charged with seven counts of manslaughter but they were dropped earlier this year and instead he faced the health and safety charge.
Seven people died in a massive motorway pile-up involving more than 30 cars when they were engulfed by a thick fog on the M5 near Taunton at around 8.20pm on November 4 2011.
Grandparents Anthony and Pamela Adams, from Newport, South Wales; father and daughter Michael and Maggie Barton, from Windsor, Berkshire; battle re-enactor Malcolm Beacham, from Woolavington, Somerset; and lorry drivers Terry Brice, from South Gloucestershire, and Kye Thomas, from Cornwall, died and 51 people were injured, including some seriously, in the pile-up.
The smog was so thick that motorists on the northbound carriageway likened it to having a tin of paint thrown over their windscreens.
Mr Counsell, who ran Firestorm Pyrotechnics, was the contractor hired by Taunton Rugby Club to run the £3,000 display at its ground, which was watched by 1,000 people.
He set off 1,500 shots as part of his Jupiter Display in 15 minutes – just 200 yards from the motorway.
In a leaflet promoting his business, the experienced Mr Counsell described the display as the “biggest and most lavish” piece of “unforgettable” pyrotechnics he offered.
Witnesses described seeing the smoke drift across the nearby carriageway.
Peter Blair QC, prosecuting, told the jury: “Essentially the prosecution say they experienced a loss of visibility, generated, we say, by a plume of smoke created by Mr Counsell from his firework display which had built up.
“It was dispersed because of the lack of wind mixed with the humid air and drifted in the direction of the motorway.
“We say people were exposed to an appreciable risk to their personal safety that night as a consequence of the way Mr Counsell prepared for and then went about his business.
“We say that ensuring the safety of people using that motorway needed particular care if you were going to undertake a big firework display involving the use of a substantial volume of these hazardous explosives, which generated a lot of smoke.
“Smoke can have an appreciable effect on reducing visibility – that should be obvious. It didn’t take long from the build-up of smoke to the dramatic loss of visibility.
“We say if he had adequately undertaken his health and safety properly, some or all of the consequences which unfolded on November 4 may have been avoided.”
Adrian Darbishire QC, representing Mr Counsell, said witnesses described seeing smoke drifting away from the motorway.
“You will see many witnesses are absolutely clear that what they saw, and indeed in some cases what they drove through, was not smoke nor smog but fog,” he said.