St Albans schools’ coach crash tragedy remembered 25 years on

A FRENCH coach trip which ended in tragedy 25 years ago on Saturday is remembered this week by victims and their families.

Five pupils from Beaumont and Verulam Schools in St Albans and a teacher were killed in the accident on May 29, 1985, and others, including 14-year old Andrea Perkins, were severely injured.

It happened when the coach in which they were travelling went out of control near the village of Ledignan in south-western France after driver Harry Hughes suffered a fatal brain haemorrhage.

A week after the accident one of the survivors Jonathan Perks – then 13 – told the Herts Advertiser about the lead-up to the crash.

Speaking from his home in Jennings Road, St Albans where he was recovering he said: “We were going along a narrow road when the driver went off the road into some gravel and then back on again.

Off the road

“We were all laughing about that when the coach went off the road again. The back of the coach swung around and it went over.”

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Jonathan, who suffered severe lacerations to his back, arms and head was thrown through a window of the coach onto the road.

He said: “The next thing I remember was lying on the road. Then I got up and tried to help those who were stuck inside.

“All of us who could did what we could for each other. Then the French fire brigade took us to a village hall. They had wooden folding beds and mattresses there and we stopped there until we were taken to hospital.”

His father Rod Perks, then a St Albans estate agent, and mother Margot were told the news by relatives in the Midlands who had heard it on a news bulletin.

Speaking at the time, he said: “The incredible thing is that 12 hours later we were at the hospital in France. “

Jonathan was at the hospital in Ales with the least seriously injured. But it was also the hospital where the bodies of those who had been killed had been taken.

Mrs Perks said: “I had expected to be filled with relief and euphoria when I saw Jonathan but in fact I felt a sense of guilt because my son was alive and the others were dead.”

Fortunately, Jonathan, now 38, suffered no lasting ill-effects from his ordeal and went on to have a family of his own.

The names of those who died are inscribed upon a plaque on a memorial oak tree in The Vintry Gardens, St Albans. They were Matthias Lasky, 14; Duncan Halsted, 13; Stephen Eke, 14; Jacquie Francis, 17, and teacher Barrbara Ericsson.

Mr and Mrs Perks, of Jennings Road, St Albans, frequently visit the spot to pay their respects and this year – to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the tragedy – they are revisiting the scene of the accident in Ledignan to remember those who died in the crash.