The M40 Crash: Friends haunted by grim reminder of motorway carnage: Tragedy prompts calls for new road safety measures as school grieves for those who lost their lives

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE second minibus parked outside Hagley High School seemed to reflect the collective misery among the 950 pupils and staff yesterday.

It had passed the flaming vehicle in which 10 young people and their teacher had died the night before.

Tearful pupils appeared to be upset by its presence as they walked aimlessly around the grounds or laid flowers at the front door.

Simon O'Loughlin, consultant clinical psychologist at Kidderminster Hospital, and in charge of a team of 10 counsellors, said the minibus's occupants were the most upset. Form friends of the dead, they had attended the same schools' prom concert at the Albert Hall in London. They had left the school together after lunch, stopped for fish and chips on the way home.

'We are particularly concerned with those in the other coach, the one that did not crash. They are feeling confused and feel guilty that it was not them. They are saying things like, 'I saw them yesterday and then they are dead',' he said.

Hagley High, a clean and tidy mixed comprehensive built in the 1950s, nestles under the Clent Hills in rural Hereford and Worcester. Because of its Catholic denomination, the catchment area is wider than Haybridge High, its neighbour across Station Road. The victims, all aged between 12 and 14, came from Stourbridge, Kidderminster, Halesowen, Bewdley and Birmingham. All came from the same class, the Eighth Grade, and several were musical, although none had taken part in the concert. The trip to the Albert Hall had been made annually for 10 years without incident.

For one, Nicola Misiolek of Stourbridge, yesterday should have been her thirteenth birthday.

Paul Hill, 55, the head teacher who has been at the school since 1979, was devastated. He broke down in several interviews in which he described pupils as 'the cream'. 'We are a Catholic school. We'll heal the wound by prayer and mutual love,' he said.

Talking to parents, visiting hospital and dealing with the media and police, had clearly drained the headmaster, a married man with two grown-up children. He found it difficult to speak at morning assembly, attended by the whole school. He told them of the tragedy but their tearful faces showed they already knew.

The assembly was conducted by Father Kevin Kavanagh, the school's chaplain, and Father Douglas Lamb, chairman of the governors. 'The pupils are talking to each other and looking after each other . . . There is a tremendous spirit and we have to draw on that,' said Fr Lamb. He said he could find no easy answer when asked by pupils: 'Why us?'

'I simply say that this was a mystery and all we can do is bow down before it.'

Pictures of those who died were placed on a wall outside the main entrance to prevent families being pestered by reporters. Pupils walking past stopped at the reminder of the healthy faces.

Children at both the Station Road schools appeared subdued. Alice Barratt-Smith, 14, said: 'Everybody was crying, everybody was upset. Normally you can hear people shouting from both sides.' Alice, a Haybridge pupil, said one girl had argued with her mother about the trip and had been stopped. If she had gone, she too could have died.

Comments