ALMOST 100 drivers were fined for speeding on the M5 motorway - despite highways officials admitting the 20mph speed limit was set by MISTAKE - and the convictions still stand.

The 20mph restriction was in place on the M5 just outside Bristol on September 16, 2017, following a fatal crash.

But the Highways Agency now admit they wrongly set the temporary 20mph speed limit for more than 14 hours - leading to some 439 drivers being caught by a speed camera.

The 20mph limit was only supposed to remain in place while traffic bosses set up diversions and closed off a section of the motorway in the wake of the crash.

But Highways England have admitted they made a mistake, and rather than setting the limit at 40mph or 50mph when a diversion and traffic cones were in place, they wrongly displayed the 20mph until the following morning.

During this time thousands of drivers drove past the restriction before exiting the road.

But more than 400 did so too quickly - 97 of whom were prosecuted for speeding offences.

The Agency has apologised and say steps have been taken to avoid this happening again.

The crash happened at just after 2.30pm and the 20mph limit was in place until 7.30am the next morning, several hours after suitable traffic management was put in place.

One of those caught out was lorry driver Gary Richards, who drove through the 20mph limit and past speed cameras at 42mph at 2.30am, 12 hours after the crash happened.

He was dragged to court in May 2018 for the offence where he was hit with four penalty points and fined £350 for speeding.

Gary, 53, from St Austell, said: "When I saw the speed limit I could not believe it. I have driven all over Europe and have never seen a 20mph speed limit on a motorway.

"I thought it had to be wrong. I thought there was no way I was being told to drive 20mph.

"I slowed down but not enough. When I got flashed it annoyed the hell out of me.

"I maintain that I am not guilty because the restriction should not have been in place at all.

"If the limit had been set properly I would haven't been dragged to court and I wouldn't have four points on my licence.

"It's completely ridiculous. It's my first ever speeding ticket."

The incident that led to the road closure saw five people tragic all lose their lives in a devastating crash between a horsebox and two cars at junction 14 of the M5 near Falfield, Gloucestershire.

The horrific incident led to road closures in both directions of the motorway and drivers were forced to leave the road and follow diversions.

Following the crash the speed limit on the northbound carriageway on which Jonathan was driving went from 60mph, 40mph, 20mph before exiting then motorway, and then 40mph on the exit slip road.

Gary received a Notice of Intended Prosecution on October 12 2017.

He was summoned to appear at Bath Magistrates Court May 1 2018 and again on May 16 2017.

Yeovil Express:

DELAY: The speed limit was not removed overnight - remaining in place until the following morning

Gary says he was determined to enter a not guilty plea but was convinced otherwise by his solicitor who warned him if he did, the court could ban him from driving altogether.

He "reluctantly" pleaded guilty and was hit with four penalty points, a £350 fine and ordered to pay a £35 victim surcharge, £85 in costs and had to shell out more than £1,000 on legal aid.

But dad-of-one, Gary, who has a long-term partner, was determined to get answers from Highways England and was convinced they had done something wrong.

A Freedom of Information act request revealed a total of 439 offences were detected by the camera in question and of those 97 have resulted in a prosecution disposal.

Lorry driver of almost 20 years, Gary argues the fines he and 96 others received is "miscarriage of justice".

"As soon as I saw the limit I knew it was wrong. I feel as though I didn't break the law.

"It has affected my job because now I am terrified of driving on motorways.

"I feel like I have received no protection at all."

Gary went on to complain to Highways England and an Independent Complaints Assessor at the Department for Transport was appointed to investigate.

Jonathan Wigmore was assigned to the complaint and he wrote a report into exactly what happened to find out why the 20mph limit was in place for so long.

His review of the incident, provided to Gary in March this year, explained how operators manually set the restrictions to reduce mandatory speed limits approaching traffic management.

These signals should remain illuminated - and speed limits in force - until temporary traffic management (TTM) has been installed.

In this incident, the 20mph remained in place until 7.30am on September 17.

Highways England went on to say this should not have happened.

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The report said: "The gravity and complexity of this incident has led to a long and ongoing learning process to help us improve how we manage such incidents.

"During this it became apparent in January 2018 that a local way of working had developed over time which did not comply with our processes.

"Some of our operators were of the belief that signals should remain illuminated after the installation of temporary traffic management.

"This was the root cause of the 20mph remaining illuminated for longer than our internal processes specified and we have since taken steps to brief our staff on the correct way of working.

"We have acknowledged and apologised for our error when dealing with complaints made since January.

"Had we been aware of the error at the time it occurred, we may have considered inviting Avon & Somerset Police to consider whether issuing NIPs was appropriate.

"However, doing so four months after the incident when some prosecutions have no doubt already been dealt with is a different matter."

Despite admitting the mistake Highways England say they "do not believe our failure" to remove the 20mph limit renders the restriction "legally unenforceable".

Highways England issued Gary with an apology and a £50 goodwill gesture, which he says he rejected.

Investigator, Mr Wigmore, said in his report he recommends Highways England make a public apology to all drivers who were caught speeding.

A Highways England spokesperson said: "Being able to set temporary speed limits around incidents and roadworks is essential for safety.

"In this case there had been a very serious incident on the M5 and the speed limit was protecting the on-road teams who were responding to it.

"If a driver believes that a speed limit has been set incorrectly, it is quick and easy to report it to us and we promise that every case is investigated.

"However, we are also clear that drivers must drive within the signed speed limit."