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Teacher tells of ski trip tragedy

PUBLISHED: 09:59 11 September 2009 | UPDATED: 14:59 03 July 2010

Anthony Carroll

A Norfolk school teacher has revealed he had strong concerns over a coach driver's ability to drive, hours before a fatal crash killed two people on board.

A Norfolk school teacher has revealed he had strong concerns over a coach driver's ability to drive, hours before a fatal crash killed two people on board.

Stephen Gibbons of Norwich School told the inquest yesterday that he was shocked that Brian Marjoram hit bollards, got lost, and took wrong turnings as he headed towards Austria with a coach load of children.

Mr Marjoram was taking a party of 36 pupils on a ski trip when it collided with a lorry on a German autobahn

The co-driver of the Norfolk bus Ron Lees, from Gorleston, and Jane Irving, a school secretary from Mattishall, died after the smash in February 2006.

Minutes earlier the lorry had crashed into another coach carrying Suffolk schoolchildren - which had pulled over nearby with a puncture - killing one of the youngsters on board, 14-yeard-old Stuart Dines.

It was revealed that Mr Majoram may not have been paying proper attention at the time as had been driving for four and half hours without a break before the fatal crash.

As a result of the collision Mr Marjoram was found guilty in Germany of manslaughter through culpable negligence in a road traffic accident in his absence and made to pay a donation of about £800 to the Quidenham hospice.

Coroner Keith Dowding heard that as Mr Marjoram drove the Yarmouth-based Ambassador coach, Mr Gibbons had strong concerns over his ability to drive the vehicle.

He said that Mr Majoram hit plastic bollards as they got into the Eurotunnel, wrongly headed towards Brussels instead of Austria and then missed turn offs and slip roads pointed out by Mr Gibbons.

He said “I was quite shocked.”

Mr Gibbons told the inquest that both drivers had told him: “It was unusual for them to be on the continent.”

Describing the moment the coach hit the German lorry he said: “I could see something across the road. As we approached I could see it was a lorry. I then shouted out 'Look out' and for some reason there was no response.

“As we impacted the co-driver went through the window.”

Mr Lees, 59, who had been asked to drive as a last minute replacement, died at the scene from brain injuries. Mrs Irving, 53, died two days later in a German hospital from multiple injuries.

PC Simon Hall, who investigated the accident for Norfolk police, said that tachographs showed Mr Marjoram had been suffering lapses in concentration as he drove for four and half hours straight without taking a mandatory 45 minute break.

He told the inquest at Yarmouth magistrates' court: “Clearly Mr Majoram would have benefitted from taking a break. It surprises me a break was not taken.

“He should have seen the stricken lorry on the motorway and avoided the vehicle. He should have had ample time and distance to stop and avoid the collision.”

The inquest heard German police thought that Mr Marjoram was 30pc responsible for the crash in the early hours of February 11.

Mr Majoram, now 58, did not attend the inquest on health grounds. In a statement he said: “I recall just seconds before the accident not seeing any lights on the lorry that had jacknifed.”

Mr Dowding recorded verdicts of accidental death for Mr Lees and Mrs Irving.

He said: “It is probable there was a moment's unattentiveness. There appears to be some concerns expressed about Mr Lees' and Mr Majoram's varied ability to the drive the coach at different times.”

After the inquest chairman of Ambassador, Ray Green said: “We really have no comment to express other than to say we hope that the finalisation of the inquest will now bring closure to all those affected by this tragic accident.”

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