Teachers felt pain ‘similar’ to family after girl, 12, drowned, lawyer claims

Jessica Lawson died after a pontoon capsized in July 2015.

05 October 2022

British teachers who were supervising a school trip where a 12-year-old girl drowned felt pain “similar” to her family, a lawyer has told a French court.

Steven Layne, Chantelle Lewis and Daisy Stathers are accused of the French equivalent of manslaughter by gross negligence after Jessica Lawson died when a pontoon capsized in a lake near Limoges in July 2015.

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.

Jessica Lawson court case
Daisy Stathers arriving at Palais de Justice, Tulle (Josh Payne/PA)

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”.

Jessica Lawson court case
PE teacher Chantelle Lewis clarified to the court the pain she felt was “different to what the family experiences” (Josh Payne/PA)

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”.

On Tuesday, French prosecutor Myriam Soria recommended Mr Layne, Ms Lewis and Ms Stathers, as well as lifeguard Leo Lemaire, be jailed for three years for their alleged part in the schoolgirl’s death.

Ms Soria also advised Ms Waguette that the local authority in the town of Liginiac should be fined 45,000 euro.

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.

Jessica Lawson court case
Steven Layne is also accused of the French equivalent of manslaughter by gross negligence (Josh Payne/PA)

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.

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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