Saturday , June 22 2024

French prosecutors begin fight to overturn decision to clear three British teachers over the manslaughter of Jessica Lawson, 12, who drowned in a lake during school trip

Prosecutors have begun an appeal after three teachers from England were cleared of the manslaughter of a British schoolgirl who drowned during a school trip to France.

Jessica Lawson, 12, from East Yorkshire, died after a plastic pontoon in a lake near Limoges overturned in July 2015.

A criminal prosecution followed and, in October 2022, teachers Chantelle Lewis, Daisy Stathers and Steven Layne – all teachers at Wolfreton School, near Hull – were aquitted on charges of manslaughter caused by gross negligence.

So too was French lifeguard Leo Lemaire, who was on duty at the time of the accident in the town of Liginiac.

This led to Jessica’s devastated family complaining about the verdict, saying they wanted someone to be held responsible for the schoolgirl’s death.

On Thursday, Mr Lemaire was being cross-examined at the Limoges Court of Appeal after insisting that he was used to seeing the pontoon overturn, and it was not considered dangerous.

Jessica Lawson, 12, from East Yorkshire, (pictured) died after a plastic pontoon in a lake near Limoges overturned in July 2015

Jessica Lawson, 12, from East Yorkshire, (pictured) died after a plastic pontoon in a lake near Limoges overturned in July 2015

Teachers (L-R) Daisy Stathers, Chantelle Lewis, and Steven Layne were aquitted on charges of manslaughter caused by gross negligence.

Teachers (L-R) Daisy Stathers, Chantelle Lewis, and Steven Layne were aquitted on charges of manslaughter caused by gross negligence.

According to court papers, prosecutors want to know why the pontoon on the lake (pictured) overturned regularly

According to court papers, prosecutors want to know why the pontoon on the lake (pictured) overturned regularly

‘I grew up right next to this stretch of water,’ Mr Lemaire told the court. ‘I can’t count the number of times I went there and saw the platform turn over with swimmers on top of it, and there was never an accident.’

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A photograph of the pontoon full of swimmers was shown in the court using a projector, as Mr Lemaire said: ‘Yes, of course, I watched them, but no-one was jostling, or shouting more than usual. They were laughing, and I had the entire swimming area to scan.’

The appeal is re-examining the decision to acquit Mr Lemaire, the French local authority responsible for the upkeep of the pontoon, and the teachers.

Only French prosecutors can appeal criminal aspects of cases, while victims and their families can appeal civil aspects.

The grounds for the current appeal relate to the upkeep of the orange pontoon which overturned, and the security around it.

According to court papers, prosecutors want to know why it overturned regularly, why there were only three anchor points and not four, and why there was no limit on the number of people allowed on top of it.

People laid flowers outside Jessica's school after her tragic passing

People laid flowers outside Jessica’s school after her tragic passing 

Jessica's devastated family complained about the verdict, saying they wanted someone to be held responsible for the schoolgirl's death.

Jessica’s devastated family complained about the verdict, saying they wanted someone to be held responsible for the schoolgirl’s death.

They also want to know why adults, including the teachers, did not intervene when they saw the platform was overcrowded.

Such questions will be discussed at length, before the two-day appeal ends today. A verdict will then be handed down at a later date.

The original trial, held in Tulle, heard how Jessica – the youngest pupil in the school party – was hit on the head when the pontoon flipped over.

She was rescued from beneath the pontoon by the lifeguard, and then airlifted to hospital in Limoges, but medics could not save her.

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Prosecutors had called for Ms Lewis, Ms Stathers and Mr Layne, as well as lifeguard Mr Lemaire, to be jailed for three years, while all denied any wrongdoing

Giving her verdict at the Tulle Criminal Court, judge Marie-Sophie Waguette said there was ‘no evidence to show that they were negligent’.

Jessica ¿ the youngest pupil in the school party ¿ was hit on the head when the pontoon (pictured) flipped over

Jessica – the youngest pupil in the school party – was hit on the head when the pontoon (pictured) flipped over

There were a total of 24 British pupils aged 12 to 17 in the water, along with one teacher, with two others monitoring from the shore

There were a total of 24 British pupils aged 12 to 17 in the water, along with one teacher, with two others monitoring from the shore

There were a total of 24 British pupils aged 12 to 17 in the water, along with one teacher, with two others monitoring from the shore.

Following the original verdict, Jessica’s sister, Hannah Davidson, 33, sad: ‘We hoped that this would be the week that we finally had some answers and were able to begin the process of moving on with our lives but that hasn’t happened, which is impossible to accept.

‘Until someone is held accountable for Jessica’s death, we will never be able to process what happened to her. It simply can’t be the case, in those circumstances, that a young girl with her whole life ahead of her died and it’s no one’s fault.’

Ms Davidson said the court procedure devastated her parents, Tony and Brenda Lawson, as they did not get ‘the closure we desperately wanted.’

The appeal continues.

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