You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Girl's death by drowning during school trip was not fault of teachers, court rules

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 05/10/2022 Henry Samuel
Twelve-year-old Jessica Lawson, from East Yorkshire - Universal News And Sport Europe © Universal News And Sport Europe Twelve-year-old Jessica Lawson, from East Yorkshire - Universal News And Sport Europe

A French court has acquitted three British teachers on trial for "manslaughter by gross negligence" after a 12-year-old girl became trapped under a capsized pontoon and later died.

Jessica Lawson was one of 24 children from Wolfreton School, near Hull, who were swimming in a lake near the city of Limoges on a “very hot day” in July 2015 when the plastic platform overturned.

Prosecutors had called for a suspended three-year sentence for Steven Layne, the teacher who was in charge of the trip, Chantelle Lewis and Daisy Stathers.

Leo Lemaire, alifeguard, faced the same charge at the Palais de Justice, in the French town of Tulle.

Lifeguard Leo Lemaire is accused of the French equivalent of manslaughter by gross negligence following the death of Jessica Lawson - Josh Payne/PA © Provided by The Telegraph Lifeguard Leo Lemaire is accused of the French equivalent of manslaughter by gross negligence following the death of Jessica Lawson - Josh Payne/PA

However, presiding judge Marie-Sophie Waguette ruled that there was no "proof of gross negligence" and acquitted the three teachers and lifeguard.

"You have been accused of not having correctly conformed with risk-evaluation regulations," she said in a ruling translated by interpreters.

"However, the court believed you were not under obligation to carry out any specific checks.

"The area was being surveyed by the lifeguard, the lifeguard was present, the flag was green."

Ms Waguette continued: "It is not reflected either in the exchanges today or in the information provided that the teachers at any moment failed to comply with their requirement to monitor the activity. There was not any reason to think that the floating platform could turn over."

Ms Waguette said the court knew that a time period of between five and 10 minutes had elapsed between the platform overturning and the lifeguard recovering Jessica from the water.

"We don't know why her drowning took place at the time when the platform turned over," she said.

"There is therefore no evidence to show that they were negligent, therefore you are found not guilty."

Myriam Soria, the prosecutor, had also called for the local authority in the town of Liginiac to be fined €45,000 for failing to secure the pontoon, as it “knew about its instability and knew about its age”.

The court had heard that Jessica was found underneath the pontoon. 

The lifeguard said he had “screamed in English for someone to phone the emergency services when I reached the shore but nobody heard me”. 

He managed to resuscitate her after 15 minutes of cardiac arrest but she died the following day in hospital after remaining in a critical condition.

Chantelle Lewis, one of the British teachers, arriving at Palais de Justice, Tulle, central France - Josh Payne/PA © Provided by The Telegraph Chantelle Lewis, one of the British teachers, arriving at Palais de Justice, Tulle, central France - Josh Payne/PA

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

In tearful testimony at the two-day trial, Ms Lewis and Ms Stathers said they began to “panic” after noticing Jessica was missing.

Ms Stathers, a languages teacher, added: “But there were 23 other students we were trying to get out [of the water] so I was trying to stay calm.”

Asked if she believed the children’s behaviour caused the pontoon to capsize, she said: “The platform was not fit. At no point were the children playing dangerously.”

Jessica’s parents, Tony and Brenda, watched from the public gallery and have been assisted by an interpreter. 

The prosecutor alleged that none of the teachers could see where Jessica was during the swim due to a lack of surveillance.

In her closing speech, she added: “Jessica Lawson was a good swimmer. She was a little girl. Her swimming should have been monitored with vigilance.”

However Dominique Tricaud, lawyer for Mr Layne, said the teachers reacted "simultaneously" when they realised Jessica was missing and all monitored "tirelessly".

Sign up to the Front Page newsletter for free: Your essential guide to the day's agenda from The Telegraph - direct to your inbox seven days a week.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from The Telegraph

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon