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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 June, 2003, 19:56 GMT 20:56 UK
French 'sorry' over inquiry delay
Coach crash
The coach came off the motorway 80 miles from Paris

A French prosecutor has publicly apologised for a 13-year delay in hearing the case of a fatal coach crash involving holidaymakers from the Midlands.

Eleven people died and 50 others were injured when one of the coach's tyres blew and it came off the motorway, 80 miles south of Paris.

Complex arguments about who was to blame, along with legal errors, have led to long delays in getting the case heard.

The coach driver John Johnston, who was originally from Stoke-on-Trent, will now have to wait a month before discovering if he has been found guilty of manslaughter.

'Scandalous' case

He did not attend a hearing in France on Thursday and was represented by a French lawyer.

This has put people in trauma for 13 years and it should never have been
David Sanders

The French prosecutor said it was "scandalous" the case had taken so long.

But Liz Lynne, the West Midlands Euro MP, blames lawyers on both sides of the Channel for the delay.

"Its not only wrong for the families of the victims but also for the coach driver who has had this hanging over him for the last 13 years," she said.

"It should never have happened but what the problem seems to be is the judges and lawyers in France and Britain don't realise what the legislation is."

'Someone made accountable'

She added: "More needs to be done to make sure this can never, ever happen again."

The families of the victims have been told they can sue the French government.

David Sanders, whose daughter died in the crash, told BBC WM he may finally be able to bring the matter to rest.

"Someone should have been accountable for it. A public apology is alright but someone has done wrong.

"This has put people in trauma for 13 years and it should never have been."

He added: "As for the outcome of the case, I think I can more or less put it to rest now."

The BBC's Colin Pemberton
"The way will now be clear for a full inquest into the deaths to be held"


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