Families gather to pray near scene of M40 crash

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PARENTS of the 12 pupils who died when a school minibus crashed into the back of a stationary maintenance lorry on the M40 huddled together in silent pilgrimage and prayer yesterday morning on a bridge overlooking the patch of scorched tarmac where their children died.

Some wept, others just stood and stared at the spot where the Hagley Roman Catholic School bus burst into flames on the hard shoulder of the motorway near Warwick in the early hours of Thursday morning. The forlorn group of about 50 stood clutching their floral tributes, still numbed by the tragedy.

Earlier that morning parents and relatives had gathered outside the Warwick Hilton hotel just off junction 15 before being taken by coach to the bridge 100 yards away from where the accident happened. For several minutes they sat motionless on the coach, transfixed by the scene, as Father Douglas Lamb, chairman of the Hagley school governors, read a short prayer.

Then gradually, they ventured out onto the bridge. As they gazed and wept, motorway traffic thundered by beneath them, drivers seemingly oblivious to the significance of the ceremony taking place above them.

The bereaved, who included John Fry, the brother of Eleanor Fry, the 40-year-old teacher who was driving the minibus, left floral tributes - cream roses, white chrysanthemums, pink spray carnations and purple fuschias - on the bridge, each with its own poignant message. 'For our darling daughter - we will love you forever,' read one message. 'We are heartbroken - you will always be in our thoughts,' said another.

Paul Hill, the school's headmaster, reported that countless thousands of messages of sympathy and flowers had been sent. The 'sheer sharing of grief', he said, 'had been overwhelming'.

One tribute, placed earlier by a lorry driver, read perhaps as eloquently as any. 'From a lorry driver who lives near Hagley and loves children,' it said. 'I've got three children, so my grief turns to anger to see children die like this. . . . May the Lord take good care of them and love them the way their parents would.' Signed: MJA.

(Photograph omitted)