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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Jane Dalton

Teacher admits not knowing swimming guidelines when girl drowned on school trip to France

PA Media

A British teacher supervising a school trip to France when a 12-year-old girl drowned did not know the swimming guidelines, he has told a court.

Jessica Lawson died when a pontoon capsized in a lake near Limoges during the trip in July 2015.

Teachers Steven Layne, Chantelle Lewis and Daisy Stathers from Wolfreton School in Willerby, near Hull, are accused of the French equivalent of manslaughter by gross negligence along with lifeguard Leo Lemaire and the local authority in Liginiac.

Mr Layne was asked through an interpreter what the guidelines were for accompanying children on swimming trips in the UK, before being questioned on whether he knew the guidelines for France.

He told the court he did not know and had not asked.

“We checked with the lifeguard and we concluded the conditions were OK,” he said.

“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.”

French prosecutors say the teachers responsible for looking after the children as well as the lifeguard should be jailed for three years.

Jessica’s mother, Brenda Lawson, told the court she expected the teachers to have “respect and integrity” during the trial.

Ms Lawson told a French court her family had been through “torturous suffering” since her daughter’s death.

Jessica Lawson (PA)

The head of jurisdiction in Tulle, Marie-Sophie Waguette, asked Jessica’s mother: “Do you have any idea what happened to your daughter?”

Mrs Lawson replied: “Not really because from the beginning it was never made clear to us what happened and why there was a pontoon. 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. I didn’t know the series of events because after that initial meeting in France with the lead teacher, the UK school and teachers refused to discuss anything else with us.

“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.”

On Wednesday, Stephane Babonneau, on behalf of Ms Stathers, claimed that the teachers felt pain “similar” to that of her family, a statement that prompted Jessica’s father Tony Lawson to leave the courtroom.

Chantelle Lewis arriving at Palais de Justice (PA)

Ms Lewis’s legal representative, Florian Godest Le Gall, said the PE teacher “suffers under the weight of responsibility”.

Mr Layne told the hearing he thought the pontoon was a safety feature and saw no signs of distress when he looked at the lifeguard after it capsized. He said he could see the platform was tilted but it was not unstable.

“When we did the risk assessment I actually saw the pontoon and I saw it as a safety feature,” he said. “Should they swim, they could use it as something to hang on to. I didn’t think it was dangerous.

Daisy Stathers arriving at Palais de Justice (PA)

“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.”

A lawyer for 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”.

Steven Layne arriving at Palais de Justice (PA)

French prosecutor Myriam Soria said the local authority in the town of Liginiac should be fined 45,000 euros.

The prosecutor said: “Jessica Lawson was a good swimmer. She was a little girl. Her swimming should have been monitored with vigilance.”

Ms Soria said none of the teachers could see where Jessica was during the swim due to a lack of surveillance.

Additional reporting by PA

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