'Huge' response to M5 crash probe


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The Independent Online

Police revealed today that they have had almost 200 calls from members of the public offering information about the crash on the M5 last Friday which killed seven people.

Avon and Somerset Police said the public response had been "huge" as the inquests opened into the deaths of those killed in the crash in Somerset and their bodies were released for burial.

Lorry drivers Terry Brice, from Patchway, South Gloucestershire, and Kye Thomas, from Gunnislake, Cornwall, died in the crash, alongside father and daughter Michael and Maggie Barton, from Windsor, Berkshire, grandparents Anthony and Pamela Adams, from Newport, South Wales, and battle re-enactor Malcolm Beacham, from Woolavington, near Bridgwater.

Speaking outside the hearing in Taunton, Somerset, Detective Superintendent Mike Courtiour, who is leading the police investigation, said more than 30 police officers and staff were now investigating the crash.

"Since this heartbreaking event occurred we have been working non-stop to establish what happened and those investigations are still very much ongoing.

"We have received a huge number of calls and messages from members of the public and I am very grateful for this. This has raised nearly 200 actions for us to follow up.

"We are working hard to speak with everyone as quickly as possible, however we need to do so sensitively because some have been injured and understandably are deeply distressed and upset by what they saw. Therefore you will understand that this is likely to take some time.

"My job is to continue to conduct a professional, thorough and detailed investigation, in the hope we can provide answers to the grieving families who have lost loved ones."

Several members of Mr Brice's family attended the inquest but declined to talk to the media and left via a rear exit to the building. No other family members attended the short hearing.

The court heard that several of the victims had to be identified by their dental records.

The inquest heard that the deaths of Mr Brice, Mr Thomas and Mr and Mrs Adams were as yet "unascertained" pending the results of toxicology results and tissue analysis.

Mr Brice, 55, who has a teenage daughter Jessica, was the passenger in a Ginsters lorry owned by the firm's parent company, Leicestershire-based food producer Samworth Brothers, and driven by a man called John Clark. No details were given of Mr Clark's injuries received in the crash.

Mr Thomas, a 38-year-old ex-soldier who was married with four children aged between 12 years and 16 months old, including a blind son, nine-year-old Connor, was driving a Samworth liveried lorry at the time of the crash.

Mr Adams, 73, was driving a grey Skoda Fabia, in which his wife, who was 70, was a passenger.

Wheelchair-bound Mr Barton and his daughter were the rear seat passengers in a blue M-Reg Ford Fiesta registered to a friend of Chris Barbull, the driver of the car, and the fiance of Miss Barton's sister Emma. The front seat passenger in the car, she remains seriously ill in hospital.

The inquest heard Mr Barton died from chest injuries and his daughter from neck, chest and abdominal injuries.

Mr Beecham, who was the event co-ordinator of medieval re-enactment group The Company Of Chivalry, was the sole occupant of a car belonging to his employer, Calor, when he died from a head injury. The inquest heard his wife and daughter were travelling in a separate vehicle at the time.

West Somerset Coroner Michael Rose, releasing the bodies to their families for burial, said each death was a "tragedy" and, despite the ongoing criminal investigation, there was no need to keep them for a second post-mortem examination.

"I am more than satisfied that the cause of each death has been fully explored, is correct and that to withhold the release of any bodies would cause enormous distress to the families concerned," he said.

"This decision is mine alone but one made in the light of very considerable experience as a coroner."

He paid tribute to the emergency services who dealt with the crash, saying they had reacted "with incredible speed and, in many cases, with considerable bravery".

"All too often one reads of indecisions by authorities bound by a rigid adherence to procedures and rules, but the public servants of this county have been seen here at their best," he said.

Police investigating the crash are focusing their attention on the theory that it was caused by smoke drifting on to the M5 from a fireworks event held at the nearby Taunton Rugby Club.

A total of 51 people were injured in the accident - which involved 37 vehicles and was described as one of the worst British motorway crashes in memory.

A vigil is due to be held tomorrow in Taunton, close to the scene of the crash, which happened on the northbound carriageway near Junction 25.

Samworth Brothers paid tribute today to their drivers killed and injured in the crash, revealing that Mr Brice had only been working for the firm for six months.

Max Johnson, operations manager at Samworth Brothers Distribution Bristol, said: "Terry only joined Samworth Brothers Distribution in Bristol just over six months ago but his friendly and generous nature will be missed by all of us here. The thoughts and prayers of all of us are with his family at this sad time."

Mr Thomas had worked for the company for 15 years in a variety of roles, and met his wife through working at Ginsters in Callington, just five miles from his home.

Tara Davis, transport manager for Samworth Brothers Distribution, said: "Kye had driven for us for 15 years and was a very well-known and respected member of our team.

"He was a genuine and warm friend to everyone here. We also knew him as a dedicated husband and father.

"The news is heartbreaking and our thoughts are with his wife Becki, their four children, family and friends."

The company said Mr Clark was seriously injured in the crash and is recovering in Taunton's Musgrove Park Hospital, where he is "making good progress".

His family and those of the other two drivers are being offered support by the company.

Company director Mark Samworth said: "We would all like to thank the emergency services who attended the scene and who have been such a tremendous help to us over the last few days, as well as the public for the many messages of support and condolence we have received, particularly from the local community in the South West."