British teachers should be jailed after pontoon death, French prosecutors say

Jessica Lawson became trapped under the platform in a lake near Limoges in July 2015.

05 October 2022

British teachers who were responsible for looking after a 12-year-old girl on a school trip which ended with her drowning should be jailed for three years, French prosecutors have said.

Steven Layne, Chantelle Lewis and Daisy Stathers are accused of the French equivalent of manslaughter by gross negligence following the death of Jessica Lawson in July 2015.

The schoolgirl, who was the youngest child on the trip, became trapped after a pontoon capsized in a lake near the city of Limoges.

Steven Layne
Steven Layne, who was in charge of the school trip, is one of three teachers who faces jail if found guilty (Josh Payne/PA)

A trial at the Palais de Justice in the French town of Tulle heard how Ms Lewis and Ms Stathers began to “panic” after noticing Jessica was missing, with both becoming emotional on the witness stand during Tuesday’s proceedings.

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

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.

During her closing speech, prosecutor Myriam Soria told the head of jurisdiction in Tulle, Marie-Sophie Waguette, she recommend three years’ jail time for the three teachers, as well as lifeguard Leo Lemaire.

Ms Soria also advised Ms Waguette that the local authority in the town of Liginiac should be fined 45,000 euro for its alleged part in Jessica’s death.

Swimming accident – France
Tony Lawson’s tribute to his daughter Jessica (Facebook/PA)

In her speech, 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.

Addressing the pontoon itself, the prosecutor said the local authority “knew about instability and knew about its age.”

Jessica’s parents, who have followed proceedings through an interpreter, are set to find out whether their daughter’s teachers are guilty on Wednesday.

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