Three British teachers cleared of manslaughter over death of girl, 12, who drowned in lake on school trip to France

5 October 2022, 15:18 | Updated: 6 October 2022, 00:28

Facing jail: Teachers Daisy Stathers, Steven Layne and Chantelle Lewis
Facing jail: Teachers Daisy Stathers, Steven Layne and Chantelle Lewis. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Three British teachers have been found not guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence at a French court following the death of a British 12-year-old who drowned in a lake while on a school trip.

Teachers Steven Layne, Chantelle Lewis and Daisy Stathers were cleared of the French equivalent of gross negligence manslaughter after the death of Jessica Lawson, 12, in July 2015.

The schoolgirl, from Wolfreton School in Willerby, near Hull, became trapped after a pontoon capsized in a lake near the city of Limoges.

Giving her verdicts through a translator to the Palais de Justice in Tulle on Wednesday, 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."

Jessica Lawson drowned on a school trip in 2015
Jessica Lawson drowned on a school trip in 2015. Picture: Facebook

Mr Layne told the court he thought the pontoon was a safety feature and saw no signs of distress when he looked at the lifeguard after it capsized.

A lawyer told the French court today that the teachers felt pain "similar" to her family.

The youngster's father, Tony Lawson, left the courtroom on Wednesday after hearing Stephane Babonneau, acting on behalf of Ms Stathers, make the claim about how the teachers felt after the incident.

Read more: Schoolboy,14 stabbed to death in Gateshead named as boy, 14 and girl, 13, still quizzed in murder probe

Ms Lewis was offered the chance to say something before the head of jurisdiction in Tulle adjourned proceedings, where the PE teacher said the pain is "different to what the family experiences".

Mr Layne and Ms Stathers declined to say anything when offered the opportunity.

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".

Mr Godest Le Gall said the PE teacher "suffers under the weight of responsibility".

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".

The youngster's mother, Brenda Lawson, told the court she expected the teachers from Wolfreton School in Willerby, near Hull, to have "respect and integrity" during the trial.

Jessica's parents, who have followed proceedings through an interpreter, were cleared this afternoon.

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