Hereford & Worcester

Alvechurch School coach crash: Driver investigated over 'involuntary homicide'

The coach involved in the crash
Image caption The accident occurred on the A26 motorway near Chalons-en-Champagne

The driver of a coach that crashed in France, killing a teacher, is being investigated over an allegation of involuntary homicide.

Derek Thompson, 47, was behind the wheel of the vehicle when it went down an embankment on the A26 motorway.

Peter Rippington, 59, who taught at Alvechurch School, died and more than 20 people were hurt in Sunday's crash.

Pupils from the school were returning from a skiing trip in Italy at the time of the crash.

According to the Foreign Office, seven people remain in hospital, including a 13-year-old girl who underwent surgery in Paris.

'Repeatedly swerve'

Mr Thompson appeared before a judge on Monday afternoon and is now free to return to England on the condition he will attend a French court at a later date.

In a statement, the Rheims prosecutor said Mr Thompson had been questioned by the examining magistrate (EM) on Monday afternoon.

"He explained to the EM that he had no recollection of the circumstances of the accident.

"He is under investigation for involuntary manslaughter and involuntary wounding."

Prosecutor Christian de Rocquigny said: "Witnesses who were driving in the area near the coach saw the vehicle repeatedly swerve towards the verge.

"The tachograph indicates some unexplained variations in speed in the nine minutes before the accident, the judge explained.

"While being questioned the driver, having denied falling asleep, has acknowledged that it was possible that he did so."

Police in France have confirmed Mr Thompson, who suffered minor injuries, tested negative for both drugs and alcohol.

There was also no evidence of him having worked excess hours or speeding at the time of the incident.

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Media captionCol Laurent Vidal: "[The driver] did not drink any alcohol"

The school party had been on a skiing trip to Val d'Aosta, organised by travel company Interski.

The Mansfield-based firm said the crash happened at about 02:30 GMT, near the city of Rheims, as the party made its way home aboard two coaches.

The Foreign Office said it was working closely with French authorities and was also assisting the passengers involved and their relatives.

There had been 20 adults - including two drivers and six ski instructors - and 29 schoolchildren on board, the company added.

The vehicle involved was owned by Solus Coaches, which is based in Tamworth, Staffordshire. A spokesman for the coach company said it was "saddened" to hear of the crash and offered its "sincere condolences" to the family and friends of Mr Rippington.

Most of the children have now arrived back in Worcestershire.

Tributes have been paid to Mr Rippington, whose wife Sharon and daughter Amy were also injured in the crash, at the Church of England middle school, which opened as usual following the half-term break.

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Media captionParents said the crash had killed a "kind and caring" teacher

Speaking outside the school Bryan Maybee, chair of governors, offered his condolences to those "affected by this tragic accident".

He said: "[Peter Rippington was] a dedicated and inspirational teacher.

"We continue to wish for the swift recovery and safe return of those currently being treated for injuries abroad.

Mr Maybee was joined by the Reverend David Martin, rector of Alvechurch, who said Mr Rippington "was so much part of this community" and that he had given "his whole life to Alvechurch Church of England Middle School".

West Mercia Police said it was supporting the families of the children and members of the staff involved and family liaison officers had been put in place at the school.

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