After a wait of nearly five years, I received news this week that the French authorities are recommending that the investigation into the 2016 Bournside coach crash be closed. Although the final decision rests with the Public Prosecutor, it seems likely that the probe will be wound up shortly.
This information, which came from the Foreign Office in response to my latest enquiry to the French authorities, comes as a bitter blow. I am deeply disappointed by it, on behalf of the students and teachers who I know continue to be affected by what happened that day. They rightly want answers.
Back July 2016, a coach containing nearly 50 students and staff from Bournside was involved in a road accident in France’s eastern Jura region. They were on their way to a week’s camping trip in Italy. The coach left the road, and ended up in a ditch. Ten students and two staff members were injured, two seriously.
Initial police investigations suggested that driver fatigue may have played a part, and in 2017 the driver of the bus was handed a six-week ban by a UK tribunal from carrying passengers, for failing to take a sufficient break before setting off for Italy last July.
As for the French proceedings, these were opened promptly but have since made little apparent progress. For nearly five years I have been working behind the scenes, liaising closely with ministers at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, to press for updates.
I entirely respect of course the independence and integrity of the French judicial process. Equally, however, it’s only fair to point out that this delay has caused significant distress and frustration, particularly for young people who have been kept waiting for the outcome of this investigation.
I continue to liaise with the FCDO, which of course is unable to interfere in the internal proceedings of another country. I have asked for consular officials at the British Consulate in Marseille to continue to keep me updated.
In the meantime, my thoughts are with those who continue to be affected.