British Coach Driver’s Manslaughter Trial Begins

Trial Of British Driver To Begin In France Following Fatal Crash Of West Midlands School Coach

24.03.2015

Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

The British driver of a coach which crashed while carrying dozens of school children and teachers from the West Midlands is facing trial tomorrow in France (25 March 2015) on charges including manslaughter.

Derek Thompson, 49, was driving the coach carrying children and teachers from Alvechurch School, near Birmingham, as well as several ski-instructors on their return from a skiing trip to the Alps.The coach left the road near Chalons-en-Champagne, 90 miles east of Paris on 19 February 2012. One teacher was killed in the crash and many passengers including children and ski instructors were seriously injured in the incident.

Specialist international personal injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell, representing 25 passengers injured in the incident, say the trial in Chalons en Champagne is an important step forward for those affected.

Clive Garner, Head of International Personal Injury at Irwin Mitchell, and the Solicitor leading the team representing the passengers, said:

Expert Opinion
For those who have been injured in this terrible incident the trial is a very important step forward. Our clients want to know exactly what caused this catastrophe more than three years ago and the detailed examination of the incident in a court of law in France should bring our clients’ answers to some of their questions and bring their fight for justice nearer to a conclusion.

“Derek Thompson, 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.

“The court will determine whether Derek Thompson, is criminally liable for causing the death of one passenger, and the injuries suffered by dozens of others.
“One of the key issues that the court will consider is whether the coach left the road because of a mechanical fault. Alternative theories include that Mr Thompson simply fell asleep at the wheel. No doubt, in coming to its verdict on these serious criminal charges, the court will consider all of the available evidence in its determination of what happened and whether Mr Thompson is guilty or not guilty. This includes consideration of Mr Thompson’s own evidence (including his previous statements) as well as evidence from expert engineers appointed by the court and evidence from the investigating Police Officers.

“Civil proceedings for the injured passengers have also been commenced in the courts in England. Currently the tour operator, Interschool Travel Limited (trading as Interski) is continuing to deny liability in these civil proceedings. We anticipate that findings in the criminal trial are likely to cause Interski to carefully review their position on civil liability.

“As well as helping to bring justice to the injured passengers and their families, we hope that another outcome of the criminal proceedings is that lessons will be learned to improve the safety of future coach passengers.

“At Irwin Mitchell we have represented hundreds of passengers injured and the families of many victims who have tragically lost their lives in bus and coach crashes both in the UK and abroad. Over many years we have repeatedly called for improved coach safety measures, including improved driver training, monitoring and supervision to improve passenger safety. One of the areas of particular concern to us is that of driver fatigue and the need for long distance coach drivers to be provided with reasonable facilities so that they can have the proper rest breaks that they need.”
Clive Garner, Partner

Lawyers at Irwin Mitchell also confirmed that despite the denials of liability they had successfully secured settlements for a number of passengers injured in the incident along with vital interim payments of compensation for a number of others.

Cheryl Palmer Hughes, a specialist International Serious Injury Lawyer at Irwin Mitchell also working on the case added: “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, adaptions to housing and to cover other expenses and losses which have been incurred.
“Many of our clients are still suffering from serious injuries, as well as the psychological trauma of what happened to them, and still face a long battle to come to terms with their injuries and get their lives on track. Following the criminal trial in France we hope to be able to conclude the remaining cases fairly and promptly on our clients’ behalf.”

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 three years since it happened.

“We are relieved that the French criminal 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 am pleased that the criminal trial is now happening.”

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.

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in Accidents Abroad Claims.