French detectives were last night questioning the fellow pupils and teachers of a 13-year-old British girl who was raped and murdered in her hostel bed on a school visit to Brittany. Caroline Dickinson was found dead on Thursday morning in the first-floor dormitory she was sharing with four other pupils from Launceston College, Cornwall.
As the police began interviewing members of the party of 40 children and five adults, a counselling service was set up for other pupils, staff and parents in Britain.
Members of the school party were expected back from Pleine-Fougeres today but they may have to stay while police make inquiries. Police Commandant Beneat from St Malo said nobody had been arrested and there were no suspects.
Ronald Frankel, the honorary consul for Brittany, described the moment when the death was discovered. "One of the girls touched Caroline in her bed and she was cold. There was also some discolouration," he said.
The girl told the others and went to find a teacher in a neighbouring room. The teacher cleared the teenagers out of the dormitory and raised the alarm. A doctor and ambulance crew arrived but were unable to resuscitate Caroline.
An examining magistrate in charge of the investigation said that a post-mortem examination showed that Caroline, who was in pyjamas, had been raped and suffocated. Her distraught family arrived in France yesterday.
The other children - 34 girls and five boys - initially were not told of Caroline's death, although some must have feared the worst, Mr Frankel said.
Her head teacher Alan Wroath said in Cornwall that she had been a lovely girl. "She worked hard, had lots of friends and always a ready smile. She was quiet and gentle, a credit to the college."
The school has enjoyed educational trips to Normandy for many years, he said. "We believe that the opportunity to travel and to stay abroad is a particularly valuable educational experience." The youth hostel in Pleine-Fougeres, near Mont St Michel, was in a very quiet area away from towns. Mr Wroath added: "The staff on this trip are experienced and dedicated professionals who have my total support." There were five teachers there as well as a driver and one teacher's wife, who was a qualified nurse.
Cornwall county council described Launceston College, a comprehensive with about 1,000 pupils including sixth-formers, as a "close-knit" school. It had several activity trips planned this week.
Caroline was in a party which left by coach last Sunday for a week's stay in Brittany. The plans included visiting the sights of St Malo, Bayeux ,and Mont St Michel, as well as sampling French food and practising the language.
French police have previously been criticised over their investigations of cases where Britons have been murdered. Joanna Parish, 20, a language student from Newnham, Lancashire, was sexually assaulted and strangled in 1990. No one has been charged. Nor has anyone in the case of Lorraine Glasby and Paul Bellion, from East Anglia, killed in 1986 while cycling in Brittany. They were found bound, gagged and shot in the back.