Expert evidence challenged in M5 crash trial
11:31am Thursday 5th December 2013 in News
EVIDENCE alleging that smoke from a fireworks display obstructed the view of drivers moments before a massive pile-up on the M5 near Taunton, in which a Newport couple died, has been questioned.
A jury heard that statistics compiled from spectator statements at Taunton Rugby Club on the night, which saw seven people killed in the crash north of junction 25, were not “robust”.
The evidence was challenged by defence lawyers at Bristol Crown Court as the trial of fireworks boss Geoffrey Counsell entered its third week. Counsell, 51, of Ashill, denies a single charge under the Health and Safety Act in relation to the display.
Anthony and Pamela Adams, of Newport, were among the seven people killed on November 4, 2011.
Giving evidence on Tuesday, Met Office scientist Richard Stretch analysed the wind direction and weather conditions on the night. He told the court photographs taken of the display tend to show “puffs of smoke” mixing with fog and heading in the direction of the motorway 200m away.
Mr Stretch said: “I think we are looking at smoke.” The jury heard the expert looked at 187 statements given to police by spectators and drivers.
Mr Stretch said two-thirds of the spectators backed his view that smoke was drifting towards the motorway, but during cross-examination Adrian Darbishire, defending Counsell, said this was not an accurate reflection. He referred to a meeting of Met Office experts and police in December 2012, at which it was brought up that not all statements had been used. “There were a lot of people from whom statements had not been taken,” he said.
The court was told that out of a pool of 28 spectators, 17 believed smoke drifted away from the motorway – but only one of these was included in Mr Stretch’s report. Prosecutors allege Counsell, under his business, Firestorm Pyrotechnics, did not carry out health and safety duties properly and should have stopped the display earlier. They claim smog caused the 34-vehicle pile-up.
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