Driver To Face Manslaughter Trial Following Fatal Coach Crash

British driver to be tried in France following crash of West Midlands school coach

19.11.2014

Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

French authorities have now confirmed that the driver of a coach which crashed while carrying school children from the West Midlands returning from a skiing trip, will face trial for involuntary manslaughter.

Having reviewed all the evidence in the case, the Investigating Magistrate supervising the French proceedings has now agreed with prosecutors that the British driver of the coach, Derek Thompson, will face trial, which will probably take place next year. The coach involved left the road near Chalons-en-Champagne, 90 miles east of Paris on 19 February 2012.

Specialist international serious injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell representing 25 passengers  injured in the incident say the development is an important step forward for those affected and follows on from the French authorities’ agreement to release the crash wreckage for examination earlier this year.

The injured children were from Alvechurch School near Birmingham and other injured passengers included two ski-instructors who were helping the children.  

Clive Garner, Head of International Personal Injury and Group Actions at Irwin Mitchell who represents the passengers, said:

Expert Opinion
The announcement by the French authorities that the coach driver will be tried on charges of involuntary manslaughter next year is an important step forward in determining exactly what caused this catastrophe and brings our clients’ fight for justice nearer to a conclusion.

“In February it will be three years since this dreadful crash occurred. No other vehicles are thought to have played any part in the incident and to date no mechanical or other issue with the coach itself has been identified. Nevertheless, the driver, the coach company and their insurers have not accepted liability for the incident.

“The families that we represent still do not know exactly what caused the crash although we are pleased that our repeated requests to the French authorities to release the coach wreckage for examination by engineers have recently been granted.

“The coach driver is facing very serious criminal charges which carry a maximum sentence of up to 3 years imprisonment, along with a fine of up to 45,000 €, and we expect his conduct to be thoroughly investigated at trial.

“Concerns have been raised about the possibility that the coach driver fell asleep at the wheel. Although it is understood that the driver does not recall falling asleep, or what caused the coach to leave the road, no doubt the court will determine exactly what caused the coach to leave the road and whether the driver is criminally liable for causing the death of a passenger, and consequently whether he is also liable for causing the injuries suffered by the dozens of other passengers.

"My colleagues and I have represented hundreds of passengers injured in coach and bus crashes both in the UK and abroad and we have repeatedly called for improved coach safety measures including improved driver training, monitoring and supervision to improve passenger safety.

“While it is a matter for the French court to determine whether driver fatigue has played a part in this particular incident, it certainly has in a number of previous serious coach crashes and more needs to be done to reduce the risk of coach driver fatigue in the future, including ensuring that drivers receive adequate rest breaks, taken in appropriate conditions."
Clive Garner, Partner

Irwin Mitchell has successfully secured settlements for a number of passengers along with vital interim payments of compensation for some others, Despite this civil proceedings for compensation in the Birmingham High Court were put on hold after the Defendant Tour Operator, Interschool Travel Limited (trading as ‘Interski’) applied to the Court to stay proceedings until after the coach company’s insurers had access to the coach wreckage to inspect it.

Clive added: “Many of our clients are still suffering from serious injuries and nearly 3 years on still face a long battle to come to terms with their injuries and get their lives on track.

“We have been able to resolve a number of cases by negotiating settlements and have accessed interim payments of compensation for a number of others. These payments have provided funds to pay for much needed therapies, aids, appliances, adaptations to housing and to cover other expenses and losses which have been incurred.”
 
Irwin Mitchell has successfully represented hundreds of other victims and the families of those killed in bus and coach crashes in the UK and around the world including the USA, Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany, Bulgaria, Turkey, Morocco, South Africa and elsewhere across Europe, Asia and Africa.
 
Steve Ratheram, 53, suffered devastating injuries in the coach crash and was rushed to a local hospital for treatment for injuries including spinal fractures, a fractured sternum and broken ribs.

The former ski instructor, from Yardley Wood, said: “We all just want to know what happened to cause the crash as it’s been more than two and a half years but the authorities have not told us anything.

“We are relived that the French legal proceedings are now moving forward as we hope they will  shed more light on the events which caused our nightmare to begin. Since the crash I’ve been back to hospital on countless occasions for further treatment and have had to get used to living with my injuries on a daily basis.

“We all want to move on from the crash and move forward with our lives so I hope that the criminal trial happens as soon as possible.”

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in Coach Crash Injury Claims.