Teachers cleared of manslaughter over death of Jessica Lawson on France school trip

Watch the ITV News report on the verdict.

Three British teachers have left a French court in tears after being cleared of the manslaughter of a girl who died on a school trip to France.

Twelve-year-old Jessica Lawson, from East Yorkshire, was swimming with a group from Wolfreton School, near Hull, when she drowned in a lake near Limoges in 2015. She got into difficulty after a pontoon capsized.

Teachers Steven Layne, Chantelle Lewis and Daisy Stathers, who were in charge of the group, along with lifeguard Leo Lemaire, were all accused of involuntary manslaughter by gross negligence.

They could have faced a maximum penalty of five years in prison if convicted.

But judges at the Palais de Justice in Tulle acquitted all four defendants following a two-day hearing.

Giving her verdicts through a translator, the head of jurisdiction in Tulle, Marie-Sophie Waguette, said of the incident: "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."

The teachers were visibly emotional as they left the court building, declining to answer reporters' questions.

But Mr Layne's lawyer Dominique Tricaud said: "Everybody during this hearing was suffering with the family and, for me, this hearing was a kind of homage to Jessica. Afterwards the question was if a criminal mistake had been committed and the answer of the court is that nobody has committed any criminal mistake because nobody is able to say how Jessica drowned.

"All of us have children, all of us are with the family in their suffering but there is no criminal mistake."

During the hearing, the court heard how the pontoon should have been secured by three chains, but a picture showed only two were in place at the time of Jessica's death.

Speaking about whether the platform was identified as a risk before the children swam near it, Mr Layne said: "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."

Jessica Lawson died on a school trip to France Credit: ITV Yorkshire

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".

Meanwhile Ms Lewis’s 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".

His client "suffers under the weight of responsibility", he said.

Brenda and Antony Lawson. Credit: ITV News

Addressing the court, Jessica's mother, Brenda Lawson, who watched proceedings with her husband Antony, 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."

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."

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