Saturday 20 October 2012

a crackpot prosecution

A fireworks organiser has been charged with manslaughter over a crash on the M5 motorway described as one of the worst on British roads. Geoffrey Counsell, 50, from Somerset, will appear at Bristol Magistrates' Court next month accused of seven counts of manslaughter. 

'It was clear from the investigation carried out by Avon and Somerset Police that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute for driver error and therefore no action will be taken against any motorists. 

So someone who was not directly involved in this spectacular crash is being persecuted as the scapegoat for it.

Motorway crashes of this sort happen with great regularity and there is no mystery about their cause. Large numbers of motorists break the 70 mph speed limit. Large numbers of motorists drive too close to the vehicle in front. Large numbers of motorists drive with complete disregard for adverse weather conditions. Large numbers of motorists are driving inattentively and without bothering to anticipate the unexpected. All it takes is for one small event to require sudden breaking and the next moment three lanes of high speed vehicles are ploughing into each other.

If anyone should be in the dock over this particular crash it should be Avon and Somerset Constabulary, on a charge of corporate manslaughter. This police force turns a blind eye on a daily basis to massive criminality on the M5. In that, of course, it is no different to any other police force in Britain.

Relying on eye-witness evidence in high-speed crashes on a motorway at night during fog not surprisingly results in little useful evidence being gleaned. Once again it underlines how every vehicle in Britain should be fitted with a black box data recorder which would, among other things, supply irrefutable evidence of speed prior to a collision. This is a subject one rarely ever hears discussed. Instead Britain’s car supremacist police forces spend their time telling cyclists to be ‘visible’ and wear helmets and all the rest of it. Chief Constables are not without clout and they could and should be lobbying for black box data recorders, which would make crash investigation work a lot easier. Unfortunately the ACPO crowd sees life through the windows of a chauffeur-driven car. The need for black box data recorders is illustrated by this little detail from a case involving the killing of a cyclist:

It is not known at what speed the BMW was travelling. 

The BMW driver later told police he thought it was a 50 mph zone, when it was 40 mph. 

A good defence lawyer ought to be able to get Mr Counsell off this unwarranted and unfair prosecution. It is also an odd prosecution, coming in the wake of earlier press reports like this, which seem to get to the heart of the matter:

Survivors told how they drove into a thick bank of fog, moments before the accident happened. According to reports, an investigation into the cause of the crash, in which 51 people were also injured, concluded that drifting smoke from a nearby fireworks party was not to blame. A police source was quoted as saying the emphasis of the probe had shifted and that driver error was the probable trigger, possibly a vehicle braking heavily as it encountered a dense fog bank just ahead of the main body of the accident.