2011 M5 motorway crash

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2011 M5 motorway crash
2011 M5 crash.jpg
The M5 on 5 November 2011, the day after the crash
Time 20:25 UTC
Date 4 November 2011 (2011-11-04)
Location Bathpool and Creech St Michael (near Taunton), Somerset, England
Coordinates 51°01′26″N 3°03′24″W / 51.0239°N 3.0568°W / 51.0239; -3.0568Coordinates: 51°01′26″N 3°03′24″W / 51.0239°N 3.0568°W / 51.0239; -3.0568
Deaths 7
Non-fatal injuries 51
Property damage 34 vehicles; road surface scorched, debris fused into road surface; safety barrier damage
Charges 1 person charged under health and safety laws
Verdict Not guilty
M5 motorway crash is located in Somerset
M5 motorway crash
M5 motorway crash
Location in Somerset and England
The scene of the crash on 4 November 2011.
Looking southbound towards the crash site (2006).

On 4 November 2011, a multiple-vehicle collision occurred on the M5 motorway near Taunton, Somerset, in South West England. The crash involved dozens of cars and articulated lorries, and a large fireball ensued.[1]

Seven people were killed and 51 others were injured, making the pile-up the deadliest on a British motorway since 13 people – 12 of them children – died in a minibus crash on the M40 in 1993.

In October 2012, a man who had organised and was operating a fireworks display for Guy Fawkes Night at Taunton Rugby Club's ground, which is adjacent to the motorway, was charged with seven counts of manslaughter. In January 2013, the manslaughter charges were dropped and instead he faced a single charge under health and safety laws of failing to ensure the safety of others. In December 2013 he was found not guilty of the charge.

In April 2014, the West Somerset coroner concluded that the accident was caused by dense fog, and that smoke from fireworks may have been a contributory factor, but was not the prime cause of the incident.[2]


At 8:25 pm on Friday 4 November 2011, 34 vehicles were involved in a pile-up on the northbound carriageway of the M5 motorway near junction 25 at Bathpool and Creech St Michael, 2.2 miles (3.5 km) northeast of Taunton.[3] The vehicles included cars, vans and lorries, some of which exploded and started a fire. Flames rose up to 20 feet (6 m) high.

Fifty-one people were injured and seven were later confirmed dead.[1] Sixteen casualties were treated at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton and 26 at Yeovil District Hospital.[4] A surgeon was flown by helicopter from the major trauma centre at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital to cope with the load and the types of multi-system trauma, including multiple fractures and chest, abdominal and lung injuries.[4]

Fifteen fire engines from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service attended, travelling from stations across the region.[5] By 8:30 am on 6 November the emergency services had removed the vehicles from the crash site, but both carriageways of the motorway, between junctions 24 and 25, remained closed for repair work. The formal identification of the fatalities had not yet taken place.[6]

A 40-metre (130 ft) stretch of road was damaged by fuel spillage from vehicles and a 60-metre (200 ft) stretch was damaged by intense fire and explosions. Two lanes of the southbound carriageway reopened at about 5 pm on 6 November,[7] and the motorway was fully re-opened in both directions four hours later, in time for the Monday morning rush-hour.[6]

Aftermath and reaction[edit]

External image
Images of the crash and aftermath The Guardian

One of the lorries involved was from the food company Samworth Brothers, and another was from Samworth subsidiary Ginsters.[8][9] Two of the company's drivers were killed and another was injured in the crash.[10] On 8 November, the seven people who died were named: lorry drivers Terry Brice and Kye Thomas; father and daughter Michael and Maggie Barton; grandparents Anthony and Pamela Adams; and Malcolm Beacham.[11]

One eyewitness described the scene of the crash, saying: "It was a horrific accident. There were a number of explosions and black smoke. It's not something you expect to see on the motorway, it was more like a scene from Afghanistan."[12]


Initially, an assistant chief constable of Avon and Somerset Constabulary, Anthony Bangham, told reporters that it was feared more bodies were still trapped in badly-burnt vehicles, some of which had been "burnt to the ground" and were unrecognisable. After an overnight forensic search no further bodies were found.[13]

Police stated that a fireworks display taking place at Taunton Rugby Club just before the accident occurred was a "major line of inquiry", as "a blanket of thick smoke", which could have drifted from the display, was lying across the motorway at the time of the crash.[7][14] The club's location was described as only "a few hundred metres" away from the M5.[15] Bangham went on to say: "Accountability is clearly something we will look at ... it is a crime investigation as well as a road policing investigation."[7] He added that driving conditions were "difficult", and that there was fog in the area at the time of the accident.[9] Justine Greening, the Transport Secretary, told the House of Commons that it might take weeks to determine the cause of the crash.[10] An inquest into the deaths was opened at the Old Municipal Building in Taunton on 10 November.[16][17]

A report by consultants Balfour Beatty-Mott McDonald into warning systems on the motorway in April 2010 advised the Highways Agency to upgrade the current fog warning system, which must be manually activated if fog is seen on the road, either via CCTV or from police calling in to the control centre. On the night of the crash, the agency said it did not receive any such reports, so the signs were not switched on.[18]

On 13 March 2012, following media reports that interim findings from the investigation showed fog rather than drifting smoke was to blame,[19] police issued a statement to clarify that they had not published any conclusions to the investigation.[20]


On 19 October 2012, Geoffrey Counsell, a 50-year-old man from Somerset who had provided the fireworks display at Taunton Rugby Club, was charged with seven counts of manslaughter. He appeared at Bristol magistrates' court on 12 November[21][22] and was bailed until 4 December when he appeared at Bristol Crown Court for an initial preliminary hearing.[23] Counsell was bailed again until an additional preliminary hearing at the court on 15 January 2013.[24]

At the 15 January hearing the manslaughter charges against Counsell were dropped. He instead was charged with a single count of failing to ensure the safety of others, under health and safety laws.[25] His trial began on 19 November[26] and concluded on 10 December when the judge directed the jury to find him not guilty of the charge, stating that Counsell had "no case to answer" and that there was not sufficient evidence that he should have foreseen smoke from the display might drift and mix with fog to form thick smog.[27]

After the trial Counsell criticised the police and local council for being "motivated by a desire to find someone to blame for this terrible accident, simply for the sake of it", saying that the Highways Agency, Taunton Deane Borough Council and Avon and Somerset police were all consulted before the event but "no objection of any kind was raised".[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Seven Confirmed Dead in M5 Accident in Somerset". BBC News. 5 November 2011. Retrieved 6 November 2011. 
  2. ^ "M5 crash: Relatives of victims react to inquest". BBC News. 17 April 2014. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  3. ^ O'Carroll, Lisa (5 November 2011). "M5 Crash: Latest Updates: Live". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "M5 Crash: Fears 'More Than 10 Killed'". BBC News. 5 November 2011. Retrieved 6 November 2011. 
  5. ^ "Incident — Multiple vehicle road traffic collision on M5". Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service. Retrieved 6 November 2011. 
  6. ^ a b "Update to M5 collision". Avon and Somerset Constabulary. 6 November 2011. Retrieved 6 November 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c "M5 crash: Firework display is 'major line of inquiry'". BBC News. 6 November 2011. Retrieved 6 November 2011. 
  8. ^ "M5 crash involved Cornwall firm Ginsters lorry". BBC News. 6 November 2011. Retrieved 7 November 2011. 
  9. ^ a b Bayley, Jon (7 November 2011). "Police investigate smoke as possible cause of M5 pile-up in which seven died". Western Morning News. Retrieved 15 February 2016. 
  10. ^ a b "M5 crash: 'Weeks' before cause known". BBC News. 7 November 2011. Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  11. ^ Morris, Steven (7 November 2011). "M5 crash victims named as police investigate fireworks connection". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  12. ^ Rayment, Sean; Nikkhah, Roya (5 November 2011). "M5 motorway crash: 'it was like Afghanistan'". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  13. ^ Rayment, Sean; Nikkhah, Roya (6 November 2011). "M5 Motorway Crash: Death Toll Remains as No More Bodies Found Overnight". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 6 November 2011. 
  14. ^ Morris, Steven; Siddique, Haroon (7 November 2011). "M5 Crash: Police Investigate Rugby Club Fireworks Display". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 November 2011. 
  15. ^ Morris, Steven (7 November 2011). "M5 crash: the law on fireworks displays". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  16. ^ "M5 crash victims' inquest opens in Taunton". BBC News. 10 November 2011. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  17. ^ "Taunton M5 crash: inquests opened". Yeovil Express. 10 November 2011. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  18. ^ M5 report identified fog risk before crash BBC News, 12 December 2011. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  19. ^ "Taunton Rugby Club cleared as report highlights fog and driver error". thisissomerset.co.uk. 12 March 2012. Retrieved 24 March 2012. A police inquiry into the cause of the M5 crash in which seven people died and another 51 were injured has concluded drifting smoke from a nearby fireworks party was not to blame. 
  20. ^ "Avon and Somerset Constabulary – Investigation continues into M5 road traffic collision (Taunton)". Avon and Somerset Constabulary. 13 March 2012. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 
  21. ^ "M5 Pile-Up: Man Charged Over Seven Deaths". Sky News. 19 October 2012. Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  22. ^ "M5 crash deaths: Geoffrey Counsell on manslaughter charges". BBC News. 19 October 2012. Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  23. ^ "BBC News – M5 crash deaths accused Geoffrey Counsell is bailed". BBC. 12 November 2012. Retrieved 17 November 2012. 
  24. ^ "Somerset M5 crash: Fireworks boss bailed to attend another hearing in January (From This is The West Country)". Thisisthewestcountry.co.uk. 4 December 2012. Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  25. ^ "BBC News – Manslaughter charges dropped in M5 crash case". BBC. 15 January 2013. Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  26. ^ "Fireworks display contractor denies breaching safety rules after M5 pile-up". Wales Online. 4 November 2011. Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  27. ^ "Geoffrey Counsell cleared over M5 fireworks deaths". BBC News. 10 December 2013. 
  28. ^ "Fireworks contractor Geoffrey Counsell tells of relief as he is cleared over foggy night M5 crash deaths". The Independent. London. 10 December 2013.