The family of Jessica Lawson, the 12-year-old girl who died during a school trip to France, have been left ‘devastated’ after a French court acquitted teachers of manslaughter by gross negligence, their lawyer has said.
Jessica, a pupil at Wolfreton School, Willerby, died while swimming in a lake near the town 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 connection with 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 provide answers to the question that had dogged them for seven years: how and why their daughter died.
But the Hull barrister representing them said they were 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 series 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 result in my personal opinion. We will continue to work 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 court after the verdict was handed down on Wednesday. Tony, overcome with grief, had immediately walked out of the courtroom when the teachers were acquitted.
Another photograph showed Steven Layne and Chantelle Lewis overcome with emotion after the verdict 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 to France in 2015 – were left in tears yesterday after three British teachers accused of manslaughter were cleared of offences. Pictured: Tony is comforted by his 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 gave no immediate reaction to the verdicts outside court itself, but writing on the Jessica Lawson Foundation’s Facebook page on Thursday, Mrs Lawson said: ‘No win, no loss, no draw. Enough is enough.
‘We as a family are proud and stay together. A closeness borne by our tragedy. A closeness that continues to gain its strength from our guiding light.
‘Her name is and will remain Jessica Lawson.’
Mrs Lawson continued: ‘Over the last two days the world media has been ‘saying her name’.
‘And it’s ok for our family. Unconditional love is a powerful thing. Immeasurable.
‘I’m Brenda Lawson, I’m Jessica’s mum. She is my little girl. No court in any country can take that away from me… ever.’
Minutes from tragedy: School children are seen playing on the pontoon in a lake near Limoges in July 2015, shortly before it capsized. Jessica was caught 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 the Palais de Justice, Tulle, central France, after they were found not guilty yesterday
Jessica Lawson (pictured), 12, died when a pontoon capsized in a lake near Limoges in July 2015
Marie-Sophie Waguette, the head of jurisdiction in Tulle, handed down her sentences through a translator yesterday: ‘In relation to the teachers, Mr Layne, Miss Lewis and Miss Stathers, you have been accused of failing to properly comply with the risk. evaluation provisions.
“But the court believed that you were not obliged to carry out any specific checks. The area was examined by the lifeguard, the lifeguard was present, the flag was green.’
Miss Waguette continued: ‘It is not reflected in the exchanges today or in the information provided that at any time the teachers failed to comply with their requirements to monitor the activity.
‘There was no reason to believe that the floating platform could capsize.’
Miss Waguette said the court knew between five and 10 minutes had passed between the platform tipping over and the lifeguard getting Jessica out of the water.
“We don’t know why her drowning took place at the time the platform flipped over. There is therefore no evidence to show that they were negligent, therefore you are found not guilty’.
Jessica, the youngest student in her class, tragically drowned during a five-day school trip to France on 21 July 2015
Pictured: Leo Lemaire, who was a lifeguard at the scene, was also found not guilty after facing three years for Jessica’s death. He is seen here arriving at 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 panicky’ after realizing Jessica was missing, adding: ‘But there were 23 other students we were trying to get out (of the water), so I tried to keep calm.’
The teacher in charge of the trip, Mr Layne, told the court he believed the pontoon was a safety feature. Sir. Layne said there was ‘no distress’ from students or the lifeguard during the incident.
Stephane Babonneau, a lawyer representing Ms Stathers, told the courtroom of the Palais de Justice in the French city of Tulle yesterday that his client and her colleagues felt the same grief as the Lawsons after Jessica’s death.
The statement prompted devastated 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 is experiencing.’ The head of the jurisdiction in Tulle adjourned the case shortly after Mr. Lawson left the courtroom.
Sir. Layne and Ms Stathers declined to say anything when given the opportunity.
Ms Lewis’s legal representative, Florian Godest Le Gall, said the teachers’ reaction time was the shortest possible, adding that dynamic monitoring of children does not mean looking at one student “every microsecond”.
He added that the PE teacher is ‘suffering 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 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 “clairvoyant”.
Sir. Harabi said Mr Layne did not think it was dangerous because the swimming area was “supervised”.
Sir. Layne’s other lawyer, Dominique Tricaud, said the teachers acted ‘simultaneously’ when they realized Jessica was missing and the trio ‘tirelessly’ investigated.
The prosecutor had called for all three teachers to be sentenced to three years in prison.
The lifeguard at the time, Leo Lemaire, and the local authority of the town of Liginiac were also found not guilty.