Bus driver investigated over crash

The driver of a coach carrying schoolchildren home from a ski trip which crashed in northern France killing a teacher has "no recollection" of the circumstances of the accident, prosecutors have revealed.

The driver, named in reports as Derek Thompson, 47, is being investigated for involuntary homicide and involuntary wounding after the bus he was driving flipped over and plunged to the bottom of a motorway embankment in the Champagne-Ardenne region on Sunday night.

Teacher Peter Rippington, 59, died and his wife Sharon and daughter Amy were also injured in the crash near Rheims, which involved 29 pupils from Alvechurch Middle School in Alvechurch, Worcestershire.

In a statement released after a court hearing in Chalons-en-Champagne, prosecutor Christian de Rocquigny said: "In his presentation before a judge late Monday afternoon, the driver explained that he had no recollection of the circumstances of the accident. While in custody, after denying falling asleep, the driver acknowledged that it was possible that he was drowsy."

Initial tests had showed Mr Thompson was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and local police were said to be investigating whether he might have fallen asleep at the wheel.

In an earlier statement, Mr de Rocquigny said: "Witnesses who were driving in the area near the coach saw the vehicle repeatedly swerve towards the verge. The tachograph indicates some unexplained variations in speed in the nine minutes before the accident, the judge explained."

The 47-year-old has been allowed to return to the UK, with certain conditions attached, the prosecutor said. Pending his return to France to face any legal proceedings, he must "inform the judge of any travel outside Great Britain", and is also banned from "contact with victims and families of these, except the other driver", and banned from "driving on French territory", he added.

The Foreign Office said most of the 49 British nationals who were on the coach are back in the UK, but seven people remained in hospital in France.

Tributes have poured in for Mr Rippington, who was described by Bryan Maybee, chairman of governors of Alvechurch Middle School, as a "dedicated and inspirational teacher".

A statement from the Rippington family said: "We, as a family, are devastated at the tragic loss of Peter, a wonderful husband, father, son, brother, son-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, friend and teacher. We are still extremely concerned about the health of his wife Sharon, who was injured and is still recovering in hospital in France. Sharon is accompanied by her daughter Amy, who escaped the incident with minor injuries."