Natasha Paton inquiry places driver at fault

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Inquiry finds crash was caused by cornering at excessive speed in poor conditions, although it highlights that the teenager’s life could have been saved were she wearing her seatbelt

A determination issued by Sheriff Nikola Stewart said Natasha Paton might have lived if the coach she was travelling on, run by Lanarkshire-based Photoflash, had been travelling slower.

Natasha was killed when a coach carrying 39 pupils and five staff from Lanark Grammar School to Alton Towers lost control, hit a bridge and went into a river during a snowstorm in the early hours of  March 31, 2010.

Sheriff Stewart said: “Although the speeds maintained up until the final kilometre represent reasonable speeds for the prevailing road and weather conditions, 23 mph was an excessive speed at which to negotiate the hazards offered by Castledyke Bridge in these conditions.

“Had the coach driver refrained from attempting to negotiate the turn onto the bridge at a speed of 23 mph or more, adopted a slower speed, or brought the coach to a halt in preparation to crawling around the corner, the effects of any sudden loss of control could have been ameliorated or mitigated.”

The coach was fitted with lap belts but Natasha was not wearing hers at the time of the accident, the inquiry found. The Sheriff said: “It seems likely that Natasha was ejected from her seat and thrown out of the adjacent window as the coach fell sideways through the descent from the bridge. The wearing of a seatbelt by herself and by others seated near to her may have prevented Natasha’s death.”

Pupils were told by teachers to put on their seatbelts and a second check was carried out to make sure they had done so, the nine-day inquiry heard. Despite the warnings at least nine pupils, including Natasha, were not wearing their belts.

The Sheriff said that despite the poor weather conditions, the staff who had organised and supervised the trip could not be criticised.

She said: “It is clear from the evidence that staff, pupils and adult helpers all met the challenges which faced them that morning with admirable fortitude and clarity of purpose, helping others despite having themselves sustained often debilitating injuries.”