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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 July, 2003, 19:14 GMT 20:14 UK
Bus driver guilty of 1990 deaths
The coach after the crash in 1990
The coach skidded about 300 metres
A coach driver has been convicted of the manslaughter of 11 Midlands holidaymakers in France thirteen years ago.

The prosecution of John Johnston, 65, is one of the longest-running cases in French legal history.

Johnston, who was originally from Stoke-on-Trent, was at the wheel of a speeding coach which crashed on a French highway in 1990 on its way back to the UK from Spain.

A French judge on Thursday rejected defence claims that the case should be thrown out because of how long it has taken and gave Johnston a 30-month suspended sentence.

'Defective' tyre

The court in the town of Sens had heard how Johnston was driving 20 mph above the speed limit when a front tyre burst.

The Montego European Travel bus flipped and skidded about 300 metres, before coming to rest in a wheat field, killing 11 people and injuring 61.

John Johnston
John Johnston was injured in the crash
The tyre that burst was under-inflated and, the prosecution said, was defectively manufactured, a claim the makers, Avon, have always denied.

Of the 11 holidaymakers who died, six were from Telford, four from Wolverhampton and one from Oldbury.

The youngest was 11-years-old.

Johnston, who now lives in Scotland, was too ill to hear the judgement in person.

Court apology

Manslaughter charges against Johnston's manager, Melvin Eardley, the owner of the coach company concerned, were dropped last year.

Mr Eardley said: "It's been quite devastating in my life, actually, because right from the word go I lost everything that I owned because of it.

Theresa Sanders
Theresa Sanders was killed in the crash
"Because of the writs and the amount of money I had to pay out. I lost my home through it as well."

Theresa Sanders, from Telford, was one of the victims.

Her father David, had fought doggedly to make sure the case came to trial.

He said: "You stay with it, I don't know why, you just do.

"You stay with it because you believe in justice, there's got to be justice."

The prosecutor apologised for taking so long to deal with the case and said the families can seek damages against the French Government.




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC Midlands Today's Colin Pemberton
"He was at the wheel of the coach doing 76 miles an hour 20 miles an hour too fast, when the front offside tyre burst."




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