Jessica Lawson's parents left 'devastated' by trial outcome

Parents of British girl, 12, who drowned during French school trip are ‘devastated’ after three teachers were cleared of manslaughter and say they have been ‘left without answers’

  • Jessica Lawson, 12, drowned while on a school trip near Limoges, France, in 2015
  • Steven Layne, Chantelle Lewis and Daisy Stathers stood accused over her death 
  • The trio of teachers were accused of the French equivalent of manslaughter
  • But on Wednesday, the court found them to be not guilty of the charges
  • The lawyer for Jessica’s parents has said the family ‘devastated’ over the verdict 
  • Now, the family is considering a ‘civil appeal’, solicitor Stephen Orridge said

The family of Jessica Lawson, the 12-year-old girl who died while on a school trip to France, have been left ‘devastated’ after a French court cleared teachers of manslaughter by gross negligence, their lawyer has said.

Jessica, a student at Wolfreton School, Willerby, died while swimming in a lake near the city of Limoges in July 2015.

Prosecutors had called for Steven Layne, Chantelle Lewis and Daisy Stathers – the trio of teachers accused of the crime in relation to Jessica’s death – to be jailed for three years. On Wednesday, they were cleared of wrongdoing.

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. 

But the Hull solicitor representing them said 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.’

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.’ 

Jessica’s devastated parents were seen in floods of tears on steps outside the court after the verdict was delivered on Wednesday. Tony, overcome with grief, had immediately walked out of the courtroom as the teachers were acquitted. 

Another photograph showed Steven Layne and Chantelle Lewis overcome with emotion after the ruling at the Palais du Justice.

Tony and Brenda Lawson – the parents of 12-year-old British girl Jessica Lawson, who drowned on a school trip in France in 2015 – 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

Teachers (left to right) Daisy Stathers, Chantelle Lewis and Steven Layne sit in the Palais de Justice yesterday before the verdict was announced

The family did not give any immediate reaction to the verdicts outside the court themselves, but writing on the Jessica Lawson Foundation Facebook page on Thursday, Mrs 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

Teachers Steven Layne (left) and Chantelle Lewis (centre) are pictured leaving Palais de Justice, Tulle, central France, after they where found not guilty yesterday

 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.’

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.

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