The firework contractor in charge of a display held on the night of a motorway crash in which seven people died and 51 were injured spoke of his relief today at being cleared of breaching health and safety laws.
Geoffrey Counsell, 51, said he believed the decision to prosecute him was "motivated by a desire to find someone to blame for this terrible accident, simply for the sake of doing so".
Speaking outside Bristol Crown Court, he said: "I would like to start by expressing my sympathy to all those who were affected by the terrible crash on November 4 2011.
"I have been through an appalling experience over the last two years, yet I recognise that my misfortune is as nothing compared with that of those bereaved and injured as a result of that accident."
A judge directed the jury to find Mr Counsell not guilty of a single charge of failing to ensure the safety of others contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act.
The charge alleged that Mr Counsell, of Ashill in Somerset, failed to ensure he operated the firework display so as to ensure, as far as was reasonably practicable, that others who might be affected were not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
Mr Counsell was originally charged with seven counts of manslaughter but they were dropped earlier this year and instead he faced the health and safety charge.
Seven people died in a massive motorway pile-up involving more than 30 cars when they were engulfed in a thick fog on the M5 near Taunton at around 8.20pm on November 4 2011.
Mr Justice Simon ruled yesterday that Mr Counsell had "no case to answer" following an application from the defendant's barrister made at the halfway point in the trial.
The judge said the prosecution's case was based on "hindsight" and there was not sufficient evidence to show that Mr Counsell ought to have foreseen that smoke from the display could have drifted and mixed with fog to create thick smog.
Speaking through his solicitor, Gavin Reese, Mr Counsell said: "I am obviously hugely relieved that this prosecution of me is now at an end.
"I would, however, like to say something about my experience of this case.
"Before a final decision to go ahead with the display was taken, the Highways Agency, the Taunton Deane Borough Council and the Avon and Somerset Constabulary were consulted.
"All were informed of the fact and nature of the display. No objection of any kind was raised. As matters transpired, the Taunton Deane Borough Council and Avon and Somerset Constabulary were to be the agencies which prosecuted me in respect of that same display.
"The display was carried out without incident. It was a very foggy night and the fireworks produced some smoke, which would have mingled with the fog.
"However, I saw nothing to cause me to believe that any firework smoke would cause a hazard and I do not believe that it did so.
"As the judge noted in his ruling, the prosecution case was founded on criticism of me for 'failing to take a step which had never been taken before'.
"It is perhaps relevant to note that there were around 1,000 people at the display, including serving police and fire officers. Not a single one of those people raised any concern at the time about the smoke or fog, whether during or after the display.
"Firework displays have taken placed in this country for centuries. The chemical composition of fireworks has not changed for hundreds of years. All fireworks produce smoke.
"However, nowhere in any training or guidance is it suggested that firework smoke presents an actual or potential danger of any kind.
"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.
"The conclusion of the principal prosecution witness was only that the probability of any link between the display and the crash was 'weak to moderate'.
"As Mr Justice Simon told the jury this morning, the prosecution case was based upon 'hindsight and consequence rather than foresight and risk'."