M5 death toll remains at seven

 

The death toll from one of the worst British motorway crashes in memory remained at seven today as police said their "worst fears have not been realised".

Avon and Somerset Police said no more bodies were found as they removed the vehicles from the scene overnight.

The accident on the M5 in Somerset involved 34 vehicles and left some 51 people injured.

The pile-up on Friday evening happened close to Taunton Rugby Club, where a fireworks event was taking place.

Police are investigating whether this might have been a factor.

Incident commander Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Bangham said: "Overnight all the vehicles involved in this tragic incident have been removed from the scene.

"Our worst fears have not been realised and the number of those that sadly lost their lives remains at seven.

"Extensive work has been carried out to identify those people and families are being appointed family liaison officers to support them. Formal identification has not taken place - this will happen in the coming days.

"We are now working with our partners to carry out the required work on the carriageway and open the road as soon as it is safe to do so. We thank everyone for their support and patience at this extremely difficult time."

The M5 between junction 24 and 25 remained closed this morning and motorists were asked to avoid the area if possible and delay any unnecessary journeys.

The accident happened at 8.25pm on Friday in wet and foggy conditions.

While police could not say whether the nearby fireworks celebration might have been a factor too, Mr Bangham said it was "certainly something we'll be looking at closely".

He said: "There's a number of factors that came into play. It was dark, it was particularly poor weather, we had fog banks on the motorway and we also had wet surface issues.

"There were also other factors coming into play. There were events going on in the evening and of course we need to have a very close look at what was going on in the area that may have caused some sort of distraction."

The owner of a local fireworks company told The Mail on Sunday he had turned down the opportunity to stage a display at the rugby club two years ago because of safety concerns.

"It's a very difficult site. My concern straight away was the distance from the motorway," he said.

The rugby club's secretary has confirmed it is helping police with their inquiries.

In scenes of carnage resembling a war zone, a giant fireball triggered by the smash left cars melted into the ground, while charred and twisted metal was strewn across the carriageway.

The large-scale operation to remove vehicles, check for more casualties and repair the carriageway continued at the scene overnight.

Support units were also searching nearby fields and verges around the collision site.

The forensic removal of the vehicles has now been completed, police said.

As officials attempt to piece together exactly what caused the tragedy, tales of courage by members of the public caught up in the chaos have emerged.

Thomas Hamell, 25, who was just seconds away from avoiding the crash, told how he carried a baby to safety as cars ploughed into the debris at 70mph.

The teacher from Wells in Somerset had just joined the motorway in a Renault Megane with his girlfriend Katherine Lane, 24, and father George Hamell, 56, when they came to a "wall of lorries" - one of which jacknifed in front of them.

Two other lorries jacknifed behind them, creating a safe area that enabled them to leave the car and go to the aid of a shocked mother with a young baby as trapped motorists screamed in their cars around them.

"We just carried on to a safe distance about 20 metres away," he said. "We were incredibly lucky. The woman who gave her child, her car was wiped out. It was utter carnage."

Mr Bangham commended the "real bravery" shown by members of the public who had arrived quickly on the scene and tried to help others.

"The intensity of the fire - it was a fireball on the carriageway - made it incredibly difficult for people to approach," he said. "People did their very best."

Emergency workers described the crash as "the worst road traffic collision anyone can remember".

Of the casualties, 25 were taken to Yeovil District Hospital and 17 of the more seriously injured to Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton.

Nine others were taken to a temporary holding unit set up by the ambulance service.

According to reports, four of the confirmed casualties were all travelling in one vehicle.

A "comprehensive and thorough" investigation into what caused the tragedy will now be carried out, Mr Bangham said.

Hundreds of people have paid tribute to the dead and injured and their families on Facebook.

A tribute page on the social networking site, called the M5 Motorway In Somerset Tribute Page, has attracted almost 700 separate contributions.

Many express a combination of shock and horror at the tragic events of Friday evening but also praise the efforts of emergency service staff.

Tina Warran writes: "I had to go over the crash site today to do my ponies and my son and I stopped on the bridge and sat there for 10 mins in total disbelief and out of respect to the people that lost their lives yesterday."

She added: "We must remember that life must go on for their families."

Jill Rumary, from nearby Taunton, wrote: "Thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this awful tragedy. Praise goes to all the emergency personnel and hospital staff too. God bless you all x."

Tina Chilcott, informed the site that there will be a minute of silence in Bridgwater, near Taunton, at noon today.

Pete Austin wrote: "I'd also like to pay tribute to those civilian men and women who tried bravely to help get victims out of cars before the emergency services arrived. You all deserve medals!"

Shaunna Stride added: "I hope the ones who were seriously injured make a good recovery.

"And I also think we all have to say a huge thank you to the emergency services and the concerned bystanders for the amazing job they've done xx."

PA

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