Police probe fireworks role in British motorway smash

6th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Detectives said Sunday they were investigating a fireworks display next to the scene of one of Britain's worst-ever motorway pile-ups in which seven people died in a giant inferno.

Police had removed all 34 vehicles involved from the M5 motorway near Taunton in southwest England and were scouring through the remaining debris for any personal effects.

The multi-vehicle collision happened at 8:25pm (2025 GMT) Friday in wet and foggy conditions, sparking a huge fireball that engulfed several trucks and cars. Besides the seven people killed, 51 others were injured.

Police said they were focusing on a fireworks event at a rugby club next to the carriageway which insisted its display had ended by 8:15 pm, 10 minutes before the pile-up.

"We have recovered all of the vehicles involved in the collision and also, sadly, all of the deceased persons," said incident commander Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Bangham of the Avon and Somerset Constabulary.

"Our main line of enquiry has now moved towards the event that was on the side of the carriageway.

"We do believe that whilst there was fog and difficult conditions in the area, that actually, from witness evidence, there was very significant smoke across the carriageway that, in effect, caused a bank similar to a fog bank that was very distracting and very difficult to drive through.

"We're going to look at who gave permission, how the event was organised," he said.

In England people mark Guy Fawkes Night on November 5, commemorating the failure of Fawkes' 1605 Gunpowder Plot to blow up parliament and King James I.

One of the major annual events in the calendar, bonfire and fireworks parties are held on the night itself or weekend nights nearby.

Emergency crews spent the night scouring burnt-out vehicles, combing through the charred metal littering the northbound triple carriageway on the principal route through the southwest.

The crash sparked explosions and an inferno, reducing vehicles to twisted, fire-blackened shells.

Formal identification of the bodies will take place in the coming days.

Edmund King, president of the Automobile Association, said it was Britain's worst traffic accident in two decades, the last comparable incident being a 51-car crash on the M4 motorway in March 1991 in which 10 people died.

Footage taken minutes after the crash showed motorists risking their own lives amid the flames to prise open vehicle doors and rescue people trapped inside.

Witnesses described hellish scenes, with multiple explosions and towering flames sending a pall of acrid smoke into the night sky.

"We could hear people screaming in their cars. It was utter carnage," said motorist Thomas Hamell, 25, who narrowly avoided the chaos as he came to an abrupt halt next to a jack-knifed truck at the edge of the crash site.

"We sat there and heard the thud of cars, one after another, hitting each other and thought we would be next."

Tales of bravery emerged amid the horror. Hamell said that he had managed to carry a baby to safety as chaos raged around him.

Casualties were taken to two nearby hospitals. Their injuries ranged from simple limb fractures to more complex chest and abdominal trauma.

© 2011 AFP

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