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Parents of girl who drowned on school trip weep outside court after teachers cleared of wrongdoing

The grieving parents of a young girl who tragically drowned during a school trip to France wept outside court as three British teachers accused of manslaughter were cleared of wrongdoing.

Jessica Lawson, 12, died when a pontoon capsized in a lake near Limoges in July 2015.

The girl, who was the youngest child on the trip from Wolfreton School in Willerby, near Hull, became trapped in the water and drowned after teachers and a lifeguard failed to spot her. 

Teachers Steven Layne, Chantelle Lewis and Daisy Stathers, along with lifeguard Leo Lemaire, were accused of the French equivalent of manslaughter by gross negligence following the incident.

They each faced five years’ imprisonment if convicted, but were yesterday cleared of any wrongdoing by judges at the Palais de Justice in Tulle.

Jessica’s parents Tony and Brenda were in floods of tears on steps outside the court after the verdict was delivered.

Tony, overcome with grief, immediately walked out of the courtroom as the teachers were acquitted. 

Addressing the court, Brenda said: “If I’m truthful, listening to people trying to explain here what they did for Jessica, it is not really any clearer because I was expecting those who had a duty of care for her to be open and transparent and to have respect and integrity for her mum in the way they have handled themselves here.’

She added: ‘It has been seven years for me and my family of what can only be described as torturous suffering of not understanding what happened to her of why.’

Jessica’s parents Tony and Brenda were in floods of tears on steps outside the court after the verdicts were delivered

Brenda and Tony Lawson pictured with their daughter Jessica before her tragic death in Limoges, France

Brenda and Tony Lawson pictured with their daughter Jessica before her tragic death in Limoges, France

Steven Layne (left) and Chantelle Lewis leaving Palais de Justice, Tulle, central France, after they where found not guilty

Steven Layne (left) and Chantelle Lewis leaving Palais de Justice, Tulle, central France, after they where found not guilty

Daisy Stathers arriving at Palais de Justice, Tulle, on Wednesday before the verdicts were returned

Daisy Stathers arriving at Palais de Justice, Tulle, on Wednesday before the verdicts were returned

Jessica Lawson, 12, died when a pontoon capsized in a lake near Limoges in July 2015

 Jessica Lawson, 12, died when a pontoon capsized in a lake near Limoges in July 2015

Giving her verdicts through a translator, Marie-Sophie Waguette said: ‘The area was being surveyed by the lifeguard, the lifeguard was present, the flag was green.

‘There was not any reason to think that the floating platform could turn over. We don’t know why her drowning took place at the time when the platform turned over.

‘There is therefore no evidence to show that they were negligent – therefore you are found not guilty.’

Jessica’s father had earlier left the courtroom after hearing Stephane Babonneau, representing Ms Stathers, make a claim about how the teachers felt after the incident.

Ms Lewis, meanwhile, was offered the chance to speak before the head of jurisdiction adjourned proceedings, where the PE teacher said the pain is ‘different to what the family experiences’.

Mr Layne and Ms Stathers declined to say anything when offered the opportunity. 

Ms Lewis’ legal representative, Florian Godest Le Gall, said the teachers’ reaction times were the shortest possible, adding that dynamically monitoring children does not mean looking at one student ‘every microsecond’. 

He added that the the PE teacher ‘suffers under the weight of responsibility’. 

One of the lawyers acting on behalf of Mr Layne, Anis Harabi, said Jessica’s death was an accident with no ‘culprits’, adding that his client should not be expected to be a ‘clairvoyant’. 

Mr Harabi said Mr Layne did not think it was dangerous because the swimming zone was ‘supervised’. 

Mr Layne’s other lawyer, Dominique Tricaud, said the teachers acted ‘simultaneously’ when they realised Jessica was missing and that the trio were surveying ‘tirelessly’. 

The trial earlier heard how Ms Lewis and Ms Stathers began to ‘panic’ after noticing Jessica was missing, with both becoming emotional on the witness stand.

Mr Layne said he thought the pontoon was a safety feature and saw no signs of distress when he looked at the lifeguard after it capsized.

Prosecutors had called for all three teachers to be handed a three-year jail sentence.

But Layne, Lewis and Stathers were all cleared of any wrongdoing. The lifeguard on duty at the time, Leo Lemaire and the local authority in the town of Liginiac were also found not guilty.

More than 20 children had climbed on to the orange plastic platform (pictured), which was designed for less than half that number when it collapsed, flipping over as it did so. While all other children left the water unharmed, Jessica remained in the water for 20 minutes

More than 20 children had climbed on to the orange plastic platform (pictured), which was designed for less than half that number when it collapsed, flipping over as it did so. While all other children left the water unharmed, Jessica remained in the water for 20 minutes

Jessica, the youngest pupil in her class, tragically drowned during a five-day school trip to France on July 21, 2015

 Jessica, the youngest pupil in her class, tragically drowned during a five-day school trip to France on July 21, 2015

Pictured: Leo Lemaire, who was a lifeguard at the scene, was also found not guilty, after facing three years over Jessica's Death. He is seen here arriving to court on Wednesday

Pictured: Leo Lemaire, who was a lifeguard at the scene, was also found not guilty, after facing three years over Jessica’s Death. He is seen here arriving to court on Wednesday

Pictured: The scene near Meymac in the Massif Central region of France where Jessica died

Pictured: The scene near Meymac in the Massif Central region of France where Jessica died

Jessica, who was 12 when she died, would turn 20 on November 7 this year if she was still alive today

She drowned during a five-day school trip to France on July 21, 2015. Two dozen pupils and three teachers from the Hull school were on the six day adventure holiday when the fatal incident occurred.

The children had been given the go-ahead by teachers for a swim in Maury park in Liginiac, which featured a floating orange pontoon which they were jumping off.

More than 20 children had climbed on to the plastic platform, which was designed for less than half that number when it collapsed, flipping over as it did so.

While most of the students were quickly plucked out the water by a lifeguard, Jessica is understood to have been in the water for up to 20 minutes before rescuers re-entered the lake to drag her out.

Jessica was airlifted to a hospital in Limoges but died the next day before her distraught parents were able to arrive after flying out on the first available plane.

Speaking on Tuesday, Brenda Lawson told the court her family had been through ‘torturous suffering’ since her daughter’s death.

She also criticised the response from British authorities and Wolfreton School to Jessica’s death, saying they ‘did not provide us with any answers or help in any way’.

Asked to describe the schoolgirl, Mrs Lawson told the court: ‘To describe Jessica is easy really. We use the word sunshine and the brightness still remains in my life. She was full of fun, laughter and care.

‘She was just on the cusp of becoming a delightful young lady.’ 

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