Mr Speaker with permission I should like to make a statement to update the house about the serious collision on the M5 motorway in Somerset on Friday evening on 4 November 2011.
As the House will be aware, at approximately 8:25pm on Friday evening a road traffic collision occurred on the M5 northbound in Somerset involving multiple vehicles. Some of these vehicles subsequently caught fire. The incident occurred between junction 25 Taunton and junction 24 Bridgwater North, approximately a third of a mile north of junction 25.
The emergency services and the Highways Agency responded to the incident immediately, and therefore a large number of emergency services vehicles and resources were able to attend the scene very quickly. At approximately 9pm Avon & Somerset police declared a major incident based on the numbers of casualties and vehicles involved.
Due to the nature of the incident scene it took some time to confirm exactly how many people and vehicles were involved in the collision. Avon and Somerset police have now confirmed that 37 vehicles were involved in the collision. Tragically, 7 people lost their lives. A further 51 people were injured and were either treated at Musgrove Park Hospital, Yeovil District Hospital or at the scene.
I would like to again offer my - and I’m sure the House’s - condolences to those who have lost friends or families in this horrific crash, as well our thoughts for those who have been injured. The families of those who lost their lives are being supported by specially trained family liaison officers from Avon & Somerset police who will continue to work with them as long as they are needed.
Police investigations on the motorway were completed at 10 past 4 on Sunday (6 Nov) and the scene was handed over to the Highways Agency and its contractors to begin repairs to the carriageway. The collision incident had caused a significant amount of damage to the highway; a stretch of 40 metres of road was damaged by fuel spillage from vehicles and a stretch of 60 metres was damaged by intense fire. Two lanes of the southbound carriageway reopened yesterday at 20 past 5, and following extensive resurfacing works, all lanes on the northbound carriageway reopened shortly before 9pm. The final remaining lane closure on the southbound carriageway was removed at 9.25pm last night, and the road is now running in both directions.
The Roads Minister visited the scene of the incident on Saturday, and I was there myself yesterday. I was tremendously impressed by the determination and professionalism of staff from the emergency services - police, fire crews and ambulance staff - local hospitals and the Highways Agency, working with real dedication in the most difficult of circumstances. Our efforts to deal with the scene also involved the Environment Agency. The way in which all these agencies were able to work together highly effectively was critical in ensuring those involved in the accident were helped and treated speedily. I pay tribute to Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Bangham who, as gold commander, led those efforts.
It was a harrowing and painstaking task for all concerned to deal with this incident and I would like to take this opportunity to massively thank all those involved for their efforts and bravery, including individual members of the public who were passing or near the incident (some of whom tried to help those trapped in vehicles). I would particularly like to pay tribute to the local community, people and businesses, in and around Taunton. From local people and hotels offering to accommodate relatives of those injured and members of the public offering support, to local off duty hospital staff turning up to their hospital to help provide care, it was humbling and inspiring to see how selflessly so many people were willing to offer their support to others who needed it.
It would be a mistake at this very early stage to speculate about the causes of the collision. Investigations into the cause of the crash are still at a very early stage. To put that in context the recovery phase only just finished yesterday and it is only today that the investigation phase becomes the key focus. While Avon and Somerset police have indicated that the presence of smoke on the carriageway is a significant line of inquiry, Assistant Chief Constable Bangham has been clear to me that, in his words to me earlier today, it is ‘far too early’ to jump to conclusions on the causal factors of this incident. Our first priority now must be to ensure that the police are able to conduct a comprehensive and thorough investigation of the crash.
As I said, earlier today I spoke to the Assistant Chief Constable, Anthony Bangham, whose Avon and Somerset force are leading the ongoing investigation. He told me that, given the large number of vehicles involved, the need to carefully look at the vehicles recovered and of course to talk to the many witnesses, it may be some weeks until the investigation can conclude on the cause or causes of this incident. The police continue to appeal for witnesses, and I encourage anyone with any information to contact the police directly on 101 or by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 500 111.
Mr Speaker I would like to emphasise to the House the extremely high priority that I attach to road safety. The UK has a proud tradition as a world leader on road safety and that is a tradition that I am determined to continue. Although the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads has fallen dramatically over the last 20 years the horrific crash on Friday has reminded us of the terrible personal consequences of collisions for motorists and local communities. This government published earlier this year a road safety framework which commits us to a range of activities which will help us to do even better in future.
We will of course take full account of any lessons from this terrible collision in developing our future policies, and supporting the future safe travel of our people. The safety of our roads also requires effective partnership working across a wide range of organisations - national and local government, police and emergency services and many others. We need to work effectively together if we are to do the best job we can of ensuring people stay safe on our roads.
Over the coming weeks, and going beyond any lessons that may be learned from this particular incident, I will be considering carefully our forward plans on road safety, to ensure that we have the right measures in place to deliver real and urgent progress with tackling the continuing blight of death and injury on our roads.
I commend this statement to the House.