Teachers in court over death of Jessica Lawson on school trip to France
Jon Hill reports from France
Three British teachers have appeared in a French court accused of the manslaughter of a girl who drowned on a school trip.
Twelve-year-old Jessica Lawson, from East Yorkshire, was part of a group from Wolfreton School near Hull who were in France in 2015.
She died while swimming in a lake near Limoges after a pontoon capsized.
Teachers Steven Layne, Chantelle Lewis and Daisy Stathers, along with lifeguard Leo Lemaire and the town of Liginiac, are all accused of negligence manslaughter.
The teachers face a maximum penalty of five years in prison if convicted.
Jessica’s parents, Tony and Brenda, watched from the public gallery and were assisted by an interpreter as the head of the jurisdiction in Tulle, Marie-Sophie Waguette, began proceedings.
Ms Waguette said there should have been a minimum of three chains to secure the pontoon but a picture shown to the court displayed only two.
Mr Layne was asked, with the assistance of an interpreter, what the guidelines were for accompanying children on swimming trips in the UK, before being asked if he knew the guidelines for France.
He told the court he did not know and that he had not asked.
Mr Layne said: "We checked with the lifeguard and we concluded the conditions were OK.
"When I spoke to the students I did say they could use the pontoon but I told them in using it they weren’t to do any diving, not to be silly, to respect other people around it and to not scream and shout.
"I did tell them not to go diving and not to do any bombing in a tuck position."
Mr Layne told Ms Waguette the children were not attempting to form a pyramid on the platform.
He said: "I didn’t think it was dangerous.
"When the platform capsized I checked first of all whether there was any sort of distress from the students.
"I checked over my shoulder to see the lifeguard, to see his reaction as he was looking in the direction of the platform – but there was no distress from him.
"Just as the pontoon went over a couple (of children) did try to get to get it right again and I told them to leave it alone and get out of the water.
"As the kids were coming out the water we did quickly check to see who was missing and realised that Jessica Lawson was missing."
Mr Layne was then quizzed by a prosecutor about why he had not reacted to the pontoon capsizing.
The witness said: "I did react by looking at the lifeguard to gauge their reaction to see what they thought of the situation.
"I could see that platform was tilted but it was not unstable."
Speaking about whether the platform was identified as a risk before the children swam near it, Mr Layne continued: “When we did the risk assessment I actually saw the pontoon and I saw it as a safety feature.
"Should they swim, they could use it as something to hang on to."
Chantelle Lewis wept as she recalled the moment Jessica went missing.
She said: "I started to panic and asked 'where's Jess?'
"It was like slow mo. I didn't want to think the worst. Steve said one wasn't there [on the beach]. I said 'I think there's still one in there'.
"The lifeguard went in. We heard a gasp as he came out with her. He was in shock."
When asked if she was "refusing to accept responsibility", Ms Lewis said "no".
The case continues, and is expected to last two days.
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