Mother of girl, 12, expected teachers to have ‘integrity’ after pontoon death

The mother of a 12-year-old girl who died after becoming trapped under a pontoon on a school trip said she expected the teachers accused of causing her death to have “respect and integrity”.

Brenda Lawson told a French court her family had been through “torturous suffering” since her daughter Jessica’s death near Limoges in 2015.

She also criticised the response from the UK and Wolfreton School to Jessica’s death, saying they “did not provide us with any answers or help in any way”.

Swimming accident – France
(Antony Lawson/Facebook)

Asked to describe the schoolgirl on Tuesday, Mrs Lawson told the court: “To describe Jessica is easy really.

“We use the word sunshine and the brightness still remains in my life.

“She was full of fun, laughter and care.

“She was just on the cusp of becoming a delightful young lady.”

Mrs Lawson continued: “For me, she should be 20 on November 7 this year, so it has been seven years for me and my family of what can only be described as torturous suffering of not understanding what happened to her or why.

“For that reason I would personally like to thank the French justice system for taking it seriously.

“From second one, they treated it with the severity it deserved and they investigated it straight away.

“Sadly for my family, in the UK we did not get that response whatsoever.

“The UK did not provide us with any answers or help in any way.”

Swimming accident – France
The scene near Meymac in the Massif Central region of France (Louis Roussel/France 3 Limousin)

Addressing how Jessica’s death had affected her and her family, Mrs Lawson said: “Most of our family’s holidays, most of our family’s free time was to do with swimming and water.

“So as a parent and as a family, for Jessica to drown is the most awful thing that could have possibly happened to her.

“We can’t look back on memories because there’s water everywhere – we have struggled for many, many years to face the present that we were left with.”

Mrs Lawson added: “I handed over my parental responsibility to other people.

“She had only been in the camp for 48 hours when I was called on my mobile phone from the school to tell me that Jessica had been involved in a serious accident and that she had been under water for a considerably amount of time.

“They then gave me the telephone number of the hospital in Limoges for me to ring and speak to the resuscitation ward.

“So for me that’s been the worst thing for a mum to accept – that I wasn’t there to protect her and take care of her and say goodbye to her.”

Mrs Lawson went on to speak about a meeting she and Jessica’s father Tony had had with the school a month before the trip – adding that they had provided families with a booklet which said children would be supervised at all times.

Speaking about the meeting, Mrs Lawson said: “We just went to the front and said ‘she will wear a life jacket when she’s doing any of these activities?’ and they said yes.”

The head of jurisdiction in Tulle, Marie-Sophie Waguette, asked Jessica’s mother: “Do you have any idea what happened to your daughter?”

Mrs Lawson replied: “Not really because from the beginning it was never made clear to us what happened and why there was a pontoon.

“We never fully understood or it was not explained to us why she was in the water.

“It is only today that I have understood that she had done hiking and kayaking and then this swimming.

“I didn’t know the series of events because after that initial meeting in France with the lead teacher, the UK school and teachers refused to discuss anything else with us.

“If I’m truthful, listening to people trying to explain here what they did for Jessica, it is not really any clearer because I was expecting those who had a duty of care for her to be open and transparent and to have respect and integrity for her mum in the way they have handled themselves here.

“It is a phrase I didn’t understand before this happened and it is a phrase called ‘moral compass’ – to do the right thing.

“Really, no matter what the outcome is for my family, we have lost.”

Mrs Lawson said she wanted to finish her opening remarks with words from her daughter’s secret diary, which read: “My future ambition is to become a nurse.

“The thought of others in need devotes me to do well and succeed in my career path.”