The sister of Jessica Lawson, the 12-year-old girl who drowned while on a school trip to France, has said someone must be held responsible for her death after three teachers were cleared of all wrongdoing.
Jessica, a student at Wolfreton School, Willerby, died while swimming in a lake near the city of Limoges in July 2015. The teachers on the school trip were accused of manslaughter by gross negligence.
Prosecutors had called for Steven Layne, Chantelle Lewis and Daisy Stathers to be jailed for three years. On Wednesday, they were found not guilty.
Jessica’s elder sister Hannah Davison, 33, has now spoken of the family’s devastation at the verdict, saying that her family didn’t get the answers they wanted.
‘We hoped that this would be the week that we finally had some answers and were able to begin the process of moving on with our lives but that hasn’t happened, which is impossible to accept,’ she said.
Jessica, a student at Wolfreton School, Willerby, died while swimming in a lake near the city of Limoges in July 2015. Three teachers accused of negligence over her death were cleared on Wednesday. Pictured: Last picture of Jessica with her sister Hannah (left) and Polly (middle)
‘Until someone is held accountable for Jessica’s death we will never be able to process what happened to her. It simply can’t be the case, in those circumstances, that a young girl with her whole life ahead of her died and it’s no one’s fault.’
Her parents Tony and Brenda Lawson had hoped the trial of the three East Yorkshire teachers would bring answers to the question that had been haunting them for seven years: how and why did their daughter die.
The devastated parents were seen in floods of tears on the steps outside the Palais de Justice in the French town of Tulle after the verdict was delivered on Wednesday. Tony, overcome with grief, had immediately walked out of the courtroom as the teachers were acquitted.
‘My parents are broken, completely devastated and their lives will never be the same again,’ Ms Davison said. ‘But with a different verdict from this case at least they could have started to make some sense of it. With a verdict and some answers you can then begin to put things in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
‘But when the court declares ‘no one’s to blame, it’s just one of those things’ you can’t do that,’ she continued.
Ms Davison said that has her own children now – aged five and seven – who go to school in the same authority. ‘How could I ever send my kids on a school trip? How could I ever trust anyone with the care of my children when I’m not there?
‘All parents at some time or another have to hand over the care of their children to professional people and we need the confidence everything is in place that possibly could be in place to ensure they are safe.
‘This was not the case for Jessica. Over in France the local mayor had been made aware that the pontoon needed to be secured in a very particular way and it wasn’t.’
Jessica, who was the youngest child on the trip from Wolfreton School in Willerby, near Hull, became trapped after a pontoon capsized. More than 20 children had climbed on to the orange plastic platform, which was designed for less than half that number when it collapsed, flipping over as it did so.
‘There were too many children on the pontoon and it took too long for anyone to notice Jessica was missing,’ Ms Davison said.
‘You had a young lifeguard on duty who had not only the children to watch but other holidaymakers who were visiting the lake, that’s a lot of people.’
Tony and Brenda Lawson – the parents of 12-year-old British girl Jessica Lawson – were left in floods of tears yesterday after three British teachers accused of manslaughter were cleared of wrongdoing. Pictured: Tony is comforted by family outside the Palais de Justice in Tulle
Brenda and Tony Lawson pictured with their daughter Jessica before her tragic death in Limoges, France
Hannah is also furious with East Riding Council, who she says have never shown support to the family. She said: ‘My children go to school in the same local authority area. How can I trust they will be kept safe when they are away from me. I know for certain they will never be going on any school trips run by that authority.
Ms Davison said that while the lives of those on trial would go back to normal, that would never be the case for her family – especially her parents, who moved to Portugal to escape from the ‘constant reminders’ of what happened.
‘The teachers will now go back to their jobs after the case. They’ve never even been the subject of an internal disciplinary procedure. Everyone else’s lives will return to normal apart from ours, as a family we’re further away from understanding the truth than we’ve ever been.
‘My Dad and Brenda moved to Portugal because they couldn’t bear to be around the constant reminders of what happened, it ruined their lives. We’ll be flying out to see them next week and will decide then how to move forward with this because we have not seen the closure we desperately wanted.’
The Hull solicitor representing Tony and Brenda Lawson said earlier today they were left disappointed with the outcome. Now, the family is considering a ‘civil appeal’.
‘The family are absolutely devastated,’ said Stephen Orridge, of Pepperells Solicitors in Hull. ‘They were hoping to get a number of answers from the last two days and in reality, I don’t think they’ve got those answers.’
Teachers (left to right) Daisy Stathers, Chantelle Lewis and Steven Layne sit in the Palais de Justice yesterday before the verdict was announced
Teachers Steven Layne (left) and Chantelle Lewis (centre) are pictured leaving Palais de Justice, Tulle, central France, after they where found not guilty yesterday
Speaking to BBC Radio Humberside, Mr Orridge added: ‘It was an unexpected outcome, in my personal opinion. We will continue working with the Lawsons to get them some sort of answers and justice.’
Writing on the Jessica Lawson Foundation Facebook page on Thursday, Brenda Lawson said: ‘No win, no lose, no draw. Enough is enough.
‘We, as a family stand proud & remain united. A closeness borne from our tragedy. A closeness that continues to gain its strength from our guiding light.
‘Her name is and continues to be Jessica Lawson.’
Mrs Lawson continued: ‘Over the past two days the world media has ‘said her name’.
‘And, that for our family is ok. Unconditional love is a powerful thing. Immeasurable.
‘I am Brenda Lawson, I am Jessica’s mum. She is my baby girl. No court in any land can take that away from me… ever.’
Minutes from tragedy: The schoolchildren are seen playing on the pontoon in a lake near Limoges in July 2015 shortly before it capsized. Jessica became trapped in the water and drowned after teachers and a lifeguard failed to spot her
Jessica Lawson (pictured), 12, died when a pontoon capsized in a lake near Limoges in July 2015
Giving her verdicts through a translator yesterday, Marie-Sophie Waguette, the head of jurisdiction in Tulle, said: ‘With regard to the teachers, Mr Layne, Miss Lewis and Miss Stathers, you have been accused of not having correctly conformed with risk-evaluation regulations.
‘However, the court believed you were not under obligation to carry out any specific checks. The area was being surveyed by the lifeguard, the lifeguard was present, the flag was green.’
Miss Waguette continued: ‘It is not reflected either in the exchanges today or in the information provided that the teachers at any moment failed to comply with their requirement to monitor the activity.
‘There was not any reason to think that the floating platform could turn over.’
Miss Waguette said the court knew a time period of between five and ten minutes had elapsed between the platform overturning and the lifeguard recovering Jessica from the water.
‘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, the youngest pupil in her class, tragically drowned during a five-day school trip to France on July 21, 2015
Pictured: Leo Lemaire, who was a lifeguard at the scene, was also found not guilty, after facing three years over Jessica’s Death. He is seen here arriving to court on Wednesday
On Tuesday, their trial heard how Miss Lewis ‘started to panic’ during the incident and asked ‘where’s Jess?’
Her colleague, Miss Stathers, said she also became ‘increasingly panicked’ after realising Jessica was missing, adding: ‘But there were 23 other students we were trying to get out (of the water) so I was trying to stay calm.’
The teacher who was in charge of the trip, Mr Layne, told the court he thought the pontoon was a safety feature. Mr Layne said there was not ‘any sort of distress’ from pupils or the lifeguard during the incident.
Stephane Babonneau, a lawyer representing Ms Stathers, told the courtroom at the Palais de Justice in the French town of Tulle yesterday that his client and her colleagues felt similar grief to that of the Lawson family following Jessica’s death.
The statement prompted heartbroken father Tony Lawson to stand up and leave the courtroom, and was quickly qualified by Ms Lewis who said the pain is ‘different to what the family experiences.’ The head of the jurisdiction in Tulle adjourned the proceedings soon after Mr Lawson exited the courtroom.
Mr Layne and Ms Stathers declined to say anything when offered the opportunity.
Ms Lewis’ 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’.
He added that the the PE teacher ‘suffers under the weight of responsibility’.
Pictured: The scene near Meymac in the Massif Central region of France where Jessica died
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’.
Prosecutors had called for all three teachers to be handed a three-year jail sentence.
The lifeguard on duty at the time, Leo Lemaire and the local authority in the town of Liginiac were also found not guilty.