Jessica Lawson's mother addresses French court as teachers face manslaughter claims

  • Jon Hill reports from France after day one of the court case

The mother of a 12-year-old girl who died on a school trip has told a French court how her family have endured "tortuous suffering" in the seven years since the tragedy.

Jessica Lawson 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, are all accused of manslaughter by gross negligence.

Brenda Lawson, who has been watching proceedings with her husband, Tony, told the court in Tulle that her family is still searching for answers.

The head of jurisdiction at the court in Tulle, Marie-Sophie Waguette, asked Mrs Lawson: "Do you have any idea what happened to your daughter?"

She replied: "We never fully understood or it was not explained to us why she was in the water.

"It is only today that I have understood that she had done hiking and kayaking and then this swimming.

Jessica Lawson was in France with other pupils from Wolfreton School, when she drowned in 2015. Credit:

"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."

Five weeks from what would have been Jessica's 20th birthday, Brenda Lawson said: "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."

The lake where students from Wolfreton School were swimming Credit: ITV Calendar

Jessica's mother went on to compare the French justice system with that in the UK as the proceedings went into the evening.

She said: "From second one they treated it with the severity it deserved and they investigated it straight away.

"Sadly for my family, in the UK we did not get that response whatsoever."

Recollecting the events of the school trip in 2015, Mrs Lawson said: "I handed over my parental responsibility to other people.

"She had only been in the camp for 48 hours when I was called on my mobile phone from the school to tell me that Jessica had been involved in a serious accident and that she had been under water for a considerably amount of time.

"They then gave me the telephone number of the hospital in Limoges for me to ring and speak to the resuscitation ward.

"So for me that’s been the worst thing for a mum to accept – that I wasn’t there to protect her and take care of her and say goodbye to her."

Earlier in proceedings, the court heard from the three teachers, including Ms Lewis, who 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."

The case continues on Wednesday.

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