Coach Driver Sentenced After Belgian School Trip Crash

Families Of Injured Brentwood Schoolchildren Instruct Specialist Lawyers To Investigate


Andrew Robinson, Press Officer | 0113 218 6463

The families of schoolchildren who were injured in a coach crash in Middelkerke, Belgium while on a school trip in June 2015 have instructed expert international personal injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to represent them in their claims for compensation following the conviction in Belgium of the driver of the coach.


The criminal court determined on 2 June 2016 that the driver, Stephen Cardwell, 57, failed to inform anybody that he had been experiencing chest pains for several days before the crash. He subsequently suffered a cardiac arrest at the wheel and lost control of the vehicle. 


He pleaded not guilty and was given a three month custodial sentence, suspended for three years, and was ordered to pay a fine of €1,200, victim aid of €150 and costs of €1,724.38. He was also banned from driving any vehicle for three months. 


In handing down its verdict on 2 June 2016, the West Flanders Police Court in Bruges criticised Mr Cardwell in strong terms. “The defendant had an enormous responsibility, knowing that he had in his hands the fate of 36 school children and six supervisors, as well as a fellow driver.


“He has clearly overestimated himself by continuously remaining at the wheel of the coach. Even when the pain emerged and worsened did he not take any measures to ensure his passengers were safe. He continued to drive until he lost control of the wheel and consequently caused the accident. The results were disastrous.”


The court concluded that “it may be considered a miracle that the human consequences were not much worse”.


The organisers of the school trip, which was booked through NST Travel Group Limited, a company based in Blackpool, intended for the party to visit Belgium and Germany over three days, but on the first day of the journey the coach veered across the road, struck a pillar of a bridge and overturned.


The injured schoolchildren were amongst 34 children and 6 adults from Brentwood School in Essex when the vehicle overturned on the A18/E40 motorway near Middelkerke, West Flanders in June last year.


Another of the drivers on the coach, who was not driving at the time, was killed in the crash and a number of teachers and pupils suffered injuries, with two pupils requiring intensive care treatment.


One of the injured children, a 12-year-old schoolgirl, suffered a fractured hand, dental and soft tissue injuries, lacerations to her face and body, and severe bruising.


As a result of her injuries she missed her final week at school and has struggled to get back into her regular hobbies, such as playing the piano and flute, due to her hand injuries.


Other children suffered fractured bones and head injuries.  All of the children report suffering emotionally as a result of the accident.  Many of the children now suffer anxiety when travelling by car and have suffered flashbacks and nightmares.


The parents of several children have instructed expert international personal injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell, who also represent 25 victims of the fatal coach crash in France in 2012 involving children from Alvechurch School, to investigate the cause of the accident and to find out if more could have been done to prevent the crash.


Irwin Mitchell will also be seeking to help the clients with their recoveries and the rehabilitation they will need following their serious injuries.


Philip Banks, a Partner and expert international personal injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, who recently secured an admission of liability from the tour operator Interski Travel Limited for the 2012 crash in France, said:


Expert Opinion
“This tragic incident led to the loss of one life and put many others in danger. The schoolchildren and adults involved in this incident suffered a terrible ordeal and some continue to suffer the consequences.

“The holiday was intended to be an opportunity for the children to improve their language skills and experience cultural differences in Belgium and Germany, but instead it will be memorable for all the wrong reasons and, understandably, those on-board the coach and their parents want answers about what happened.

“Our clients also want reassurances that any safety failings are corrected in the future to reduce the risk of others from going through the same horrific experience. It is impossible to ignore the parallels with the Alvechurch School coach crash. We have repeatedly called for stricter regulations to improve coach safety and reduce the risks posed to both passengers and crew. It is important that the Department of Transport and the European Commission review issues of coach safety and consider the introduction of tougher regulations, particularly for long haul and international coach travel.

“Our focus now is to provide our clients with the answers they deserve and to ensure they are able to access the support, medical treatment and rehabilitation needed to help recover both physically and mentally from this ordeal.”
Philip Banks, Partner


One child’s father said: “All the parents were absolutely shocked and terrified when we were told the coach carrying our children had crashed in Belgium.


“We initially had no knowledge of what caused the bus to crash and had very little information from the police investigating the crash in Belgium.  Following the further investigations, we now know why this happened and will be working with Irwin Mitchell to secure the treatment that our child needs to move on from this ordeal.


“We are worried about our daughter’s injuries as we still don’t know how much of an impact the ordeal has had on her and how this will affect her in the future. We have instructed Irwin Mitchell to help us ensure we can get the best possible help and support our daughter needs to put this terrifying ordeal behind her.”


Anyone with information about the crash or those who were on the coach at the time should contact Daniel Matchett on 0370 1500 100 or email

We have helped thousands of people to claim millions of pounds of compensation following road traffic accidents abroad. See our Holiday Accidents & Illness Claims page to see how we can help you.