PUPILS and teachers from Alvechurch Middle School who had their lives ripped apart by a fatal coach crash in France have still not received justice or answers two years on, according to the specialist lawyers representing them.
The international serious injury experts at Irwin Mitchell act for 20 schoolchildren and two teachers from Alvechurch Middle School, as well as two ski instructors, injured in a crash near Chalons-en-Champagne in northern France on February 19, 2012, as they returned from a school skiing trip in France.
A much-loved teacher at the school, Peter Rippington, was killed in the crash.
While the expert lawyers, who have met with French magistrates, have secured a large interim payment for one seriously injured child to pay for specialist rehabilitation, support, treatment and adaptations to her home, as well as interim payments for a number of other passengers, work is continuing to ensure that all those involved get the justice they deserve.
To help speed up the process, lawyers at Irwin Mitchell this month attended a meeting they had requested with the French investigating magistrate to discuss several issues including the timing of criminal proceedings against the English coach driver who is currently facing charges of involuntary manslaughter in the French criminal courts.
The driver was employed by the coach company Solus, which was transporting the children on behalf of the organisers of the skiing holiday, Inter School Travel Limited, trading as ‘Interski’.
Cheryl Palmer-Hughes, from Irwin Mitchell, said: “The past two years have been immensely difficult for our clients, with many of them continuing to suffer from serious physical and psychological trauma caused by the crash.
“We are determined to ensure that all of those injured receive the support and assistance they need and that all our clients receive the justice.
"We requested a meeting with the French magistrate, to discuss exactly what is happening with the criminal proceeding against the coach driver and to try and speed up the next steps in the criminal proceedings.
“Our clients rightly want justice and they want to understand what caused this fatal coach crash. The wait for answers has simply been too long. The fact that victims and their families are still unaware of the exact cause of the accident is simply unacceptable and while the French investigation into the accident is thorough, we and our clients are very concerned at the length of time this is taking."
Steve Little, from Barnt Green, dad of 15-year-old Taylor, who suffered serious multiple fractures in the crash, said: “We could have never imagined that something like this would have happened in this crash and the impact it has had upon Taylor’s life has been huge.
“We are so desperate to know how this happened and frustrated that the criminal proceedings in France are taking so long.”
Clive Garner, head of the specialist Irwin Mitchell team representing the injured people, said: “While the vast majority of coach journeys are completed safely, sadly we have seen all too often what happens when things go wrong. Over the years we have represented dozens of passengers who have suffered serious life changing injuries and the families of many passengers who have tragically lost their lives in bus and coach crashes around the world.
"We have repeatedly called for more to be done to keep passengers safe from harm. We have seen driver error and driver fatigue feature in a number of serious coach crashes. We continue to call upon the industry and regulators to improve safety standards including enhanced driver training, supervision and monitoring, as well as the provision of improved rest periods for drivers.
“The lessons which can be learned from a case like this could play a key part in improving safety across the industry, which is why it is so important that the authorities in France conclude their investigations and make their findings public as soon as possible.
"It is just after second anniversary of this terrible tragedy and we and our clients are extremely anxious that justice is done at the earliest possible opportunity. With this in mind, we urge the French authorities to progress the criminal proceedings as a priority.
"The delays in France have also held up progress with our clients' civil claims for damages which are being pursued through the English courts."