THE DRIVER of a coach which crashed in France and killed an Alvechurch teacher has been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Derek Thompson was given a six month sentence suspended for five years yesterday (Wednesday) following a trial at a French court.
The coach was carrying staff and pupils from Alvechurch Middle School on their way back from a skiing trip on February 19, 2012, when it crashed near Chalons-en-Champagne, 90 miles east of Paris.
It claimed the life of 59-year-old Peter Rippington who had taught at the school for more than 30 years, while several pupils and two-ski instructors suffered severe injuries.
The reasons behind Thompson’s conviction are expected to be released at a later date.
Clive Garner, head of international personal injury at Irwin Mitchell which represented 25 passengers injured in the incident, said the conclusion of the trial in Chalons-en-Champagne, was an important step forward for those affected.
“Many of our clients have been left with serious and life-changing injuries as a result of the coach crash,” he said.
“Some of them will never fully recover. It is a relief to many of them to know that the criminal proceedings have been concluded and they are one important step closer to knowing exactly what caused the crash.
“While the Court gave judgement upon Mr Thompson today, their full findings and the reasons behind the conviction have not been revealed. A full written judgement setting out the court’s detailed reasoning will follow. This will explain why the court convicted Derek Thompson of manslaughter and should provide the answers that our clients both want and deserve.
“We will continue to fight for the rights of our clients and invite the tour company, Interski to admit liability and bring their legal battle to a close. To date, Interski have continued to deny liability on the basis that Mr Thompson was not at fault. This view is no longer tenable. We are anxious that liability is now admitted without further delay so that our clients can begin to move on with their lives.”
Lawyers at Irwin Mitchell also confirmed 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.
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 he felt Thompson’s sentence was too lenient.
“My initial reaction is that while I welcome the conviction, the sentence seems very light bearing in mind the seriousness of what happened,” he added.
“I also feel for Pete Rippington’s wife and daughter. Pete lost his life in the crash. This was supposed to be his last skiing trip and he was due to retire shortly.
“They were going to have the rest of their lives together, but this has been taken away from them. It’s not really justice although we will have to wait for the full judgement from the court. We all want to know what happened to cause the crash.
“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.”