Friday, 13 December 2013

On The Second Day Of Christmas, The Overbearing State Gave To Me…

prosecution via hindsight:
… on Tuesday a judge told the jury to find Counsell, 51, not guilty after ruling the case against him was based on hindsight and there was no way he could have anticipated the conditions that were created that night.
That this case ever reached a court beggars belief.

The defendant, who has had his business disrupted and his reputation trashed, is understandably aggrieved:
"The prosecution case against me was based on the suggestion that I should have recognised the risk of something occurring which has never been shown to have happened before, which probably did not happen, and risk of which was not recognised by anyone else."
But wait, you say! ‘Not recognised by anyone else’?

Yes. Indeed so.
"The current authoritative guidance from the Health and Safety Executive contains no reference to any risk posed by firework smoke, whether on its own or in combination with fog.
"The same applies to guidance produced by other official bodies and indeed current guidance provided by the Taunton Deane Borough Council.
"The prosecution experts spent two years investigating the possible causes of the crash, including the interaction between firework smoke and fog. There were unable to find a single example of a case in which firework smoke had previously been shown to pose a danger. "
And yet, incredibly, this didn’t stop the prosecution…
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."
I can only assume Peter Blair QC doesn’t possess a dictionary, and so is unaware of the meaning of the word ‘appreciable’. Or ‘obvious’.

Naturally, everyone involved in this is in CYA mode:
Barry Hughes, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS South West, said: “This was an extremely complex case and we worked closely with Taunton Deane Borough Council and sought evidence from experts and many eye witnesses before making the decision to charge Geoffrey Counsell with breaching the Health and Safety Act.
“The burden falls on us to prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge was not satisfied that the evidence available passed this high threshold and has directed the jury to acquit Mr Counsell. We accept this decision.
“Over the last few weeks the jury has heard from many of those present on the night of the incident. I would like to thank them for coming forward to give evidence as I know how hard it must have been to relive the events of that night. 
“I would also like to thank Avon and Somerset police, who conducted a thorough and detailed investigation. “Our thoughts today are with all those involved in and affected by this tragic incident.”
Are they with poor Mr Counsell?
A statement released by Taunton Deane Council just now reads as follows: The acquittal of Geoffrey Counsell, on the direction of the Hon Mr Justice Simon at his trial at Bristol Crown Court, marks the end of a lengthy investigation by Avon and Somerset Police and Taunton Deane Borough Council.
After the decision, Leader of the Council, Cllr John Williams, said: “I hope that the end of Crown Court proceedings brings some closure for the families, friends and colleagues of those who lost their lives or suffered injury in the terrible events on November 4 2011.
“The Council is now seeking to work closely with the relevant authorities to see if the current guidance regarding large fireworks displays, such as the one at Taunton Rugby Club, is appropriate. We also pledge our support for any changes that may be deemed necessary.
“Our primary concern is to minimise the risks of this type of unimaginable incident happening again.
“On behalf of the Council, I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to the families of the bereaved and the families and friends of all those affected by these terrible events. ”
Does that include poor Mr Counsell?

Also justice system intransigence.

19 comments:

SadButMadLad said...

Are the council and other nannying bodies of the state going to do some hindsight looking as well and realise that their actions delayed closure for the victims and cost the taxpayer.

Dick Puddlecote said...

A decent result for Mr Counsell in the end, happily. I'm surprised anyone volunteers to organise anything at all in this country these days, not worth the risk of state brutality.

Bucko The Moose said...

This sounds like one of those cases where the police expected the accused to roll over and plead guilty

Anonymous said...

…minimise the risks of this type of unimaginable incident…
This is taking doublespeak to new levels! If an incident is unimaginable, how can the risk of its occurrence be assessed?

My sympathies lie wholly and solely with Mr Counsell; I find it hard to believe that, on a “busy” motorway, the fog bank could have been invisible until the vehicle was in it. As one sensible person said on the BBC shortly after the event, it is obvious that the vehicles were not being driven at a speed suitable for the conditions (and so nicely shooting down the BBC interviewer’s intervention that it could have been so much worse had the speed limit been raised to the then-recently mooted 80mph). If memory serves me right, it was forecast to be a foggy night, and there were several other fog patches in the motorway, if none quite so dense.

Radical Rodent

Furor Teutonicus said...

XX There were unable to find a single example of a case in which firework smoke had previously been shown to pose a danger.XX

Berlin, Silvester (New year) 1999 into 2000, all three Berlin airports were closed because of the low visibility due to firework smoke.

Furor Teutonicus said...

There is also the little part in British law that says, "If a police Constable (or other "law" enforcement agency which has jurisdiction) sees something which he thinks SHOULD be an offence, but is NOT. Then he can issue a summons and take it to trial to establish the fact." (Or words to that effect) As in this case it appears to be.

MTG said...

The Judge erred. The fact that current HSE guidance notes contain no reference to risks posed by firework smoke, is a red herring. It would be very unreasonable to expect all contingencies to be covered by voluminous procedural arrangements. Guidance notes demonstrate the principles and methods for arriving at risk assessments and the extent to which those responsible for creating risks, must mitigate them. This Organiser might just have well pleaded he was drunk at the time of planning the display and in the absence of specific directions requiring him to be sober, his incapable condition negated culpability.

The legal test for the defendant was surely whether he acted reasonably in the light of current knowledge and if, as a Firework Display organiser, he knew or ought to have known, the potential for a professional display to compromise visibility on a motorway in close proximity.

Furor Teutonicus said...

Melvyn, I think we are along the same, or similar lines here.

The law grows and adapts with experience.

That is the whole point of the British, and many other, legal systems.

Anonymous said...

This case was thown out at what is referred to in legal circles as 'half time', i.e. at the close of the prosecution case. The prosecution case was so bad, the defendant didn't even have to mount a defence. The CPS must be manned by idiots.

Ian Hills said...

Peter Blair QC said the plume of smoke was dispersed, and drifted in the direction of the motorway. Doesn't dispersed mean dispersed, then?

James Higham said...

Wish they'd just go take a hike for a few weeks and leave us alone.

Longrider said...

It is the responsibility of drivers to drive at a speed in which they can stop in what they can see to be clear - fog or smoke makes no difference. The crash happened because drivers failed to drive appropriately to the conditions.

As RR points out - this was predicted by weather forecasts, but even if it wasn't it was November for flying fuck's sake. Fog happens in November, drivers should be expecting it and adjust their driving when they encounter it.

JuliaM said...

"...and realise that their actions delayed closure for the victims and cost the taxpayer."

What do you think..?

"A decent result for Mr Counsell in the end, happily."

But that will follow him all his days. And I wouldn't bet on a coroner sticking his oar further in, would you?

"...where the police expected the accused to roll over and plead guilty"

Yup!

"This is taking doublespeak to new levels! If an incident is unimaginable, how can the risk of its occurrence be assessed?"

Precisely!

JuliaM said...

"Then he can issue a summons and take it to trial to establish the fact.""

But didn't that go out the window when the CPS took over prosecution detail?

"It would be very unreasonable to expect all contingencies to be covered by voluminous procedural arrangements."

Unreasonable or not, that's the way we are heading.

"The CPS must be manned by idiots."

There's plenty of evidence for THAT, for sure...

" Doesn't dispersed mean dispersed, then?"

Beats me! Clearly 'unimaginable' doesn't mean what we all thought it meant either... ;)

JuliaM said...

"It is the responsibility of drivers to drive at a speed in which they can stop in what they can see to be clear - fog or smoke makes no difference. "

Interestingly, the local paper comment section is full of people pouring scorn on those who raise that very point, as 'disrespectful' to the victims...

Furor Teutonicus said...

XX Fog happens in November, drivers should be expecting it and adjust their driving when they encounter it.XX

Ach come ON L.R!

You are talking Britain here, where every one wets their nickers in excitement because it snows in winter! (See Express over the last couple of months for examples)

Longrider said...

I'm quite happy to disrespect. I'm an equal opportunities disrespecter.

Furor Teutonicus said...

You can not, logically, disrespect something that has nothing about it to respect in the first place.

Longrider said...

I can certainly try.