Coach driver denies blame for children's deaths in Alps crash

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A coach driver whose bus crashed in the Alps, killing three children and injuring 25, denied in a French court yesterday that he was to blame for the accident. Jim Shaw, 43, told the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Albertville, in the Savoy region near Mont Blanc, that he could not explain why his coach plunged from a narrow mountain road into a 70ft ravine on 7 July.

Nicola Moore, 16, was killed immediately and schoolmates Robert Boardman and Keith Ridding, both 14, died later in hospital. Other pupils suffered serious injuries, including broken vertebrae, and Mr Shaw broke several ribs.

Mr Shaw, from Droyslden, Manchester, said he had been unable to drive a coach since the accident and had given up his job.

Monique Hugo, for the prosecution, said he was to blame for the crash and demanded a two month suspended prison sentence and fines totalling FF11,000 (pounds 1,155).

But Marie Christine Cartilier, for the defence, said there was "not the slightest thing wrong with his driving".

Ms Hugo said that Mr Shaw was professionally responsible for the safety of the 19 pupils of St James's Church of England School, Bolton, and the seven adults on board the coach. Mr Shaw, who was charged with involuntary homicide, involuntary wounding and failure to control his vehicle, said: "As far as I am concerned, I was driving that vehicle safely.

"To this day I cannot say why the accident happened. The front wheel went off the road and I couldn't get it back on. I remember trying to steer back onto the road, but it just wouldn't go."

Parents of the victims travelled to Albertville to attend yesterday's trial and to lay flowers at the scene of the crash. Their lawyer said they recognised the extent of Mr Shaw's suffering and were making no demands for a stiff sentence or for compensation from him. Under French law, Mr Shaw did not have to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The tribunal's verdict will be delivered on 5 January.