A SHERIFF has found a coach driver was at fault for a school bus crash which claimed the life of a 17-year-old girl.
Sheriff Nikola Stewart said the standard of driving by Raymond Munro was the cause of the accident which killed Natasha Paton.
In a fatal accident inquiry determination, she ruled Mr Munro was travelling too fast for the wintry weather conditions when the bus collided with a bridge on the A73 near Biggar, Lanarkshire, and tumbled down an embankment into a river.
Natasha died on a trip taking 39 pupils and staff from Lanark Grammar School to Alton Towers theme park in March, 2010.
The sheriff found that had Mr Munro travelled at a speed lower than 23mph and not applied the brakes when negotiating a tight turn before the bridge then the tragedy could have been avoided.
Sheriff Stewart also found that the accident could have been avoided if Natasha had been wearing a seatbelt.
In her written determination, she said: “Had the coach driver, Raymond Munro 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.”
She added: “It seems likely that Natasha was ejected from her seat and thrown out of the adjacent window as the bus fell sideways through the descent from the bridge.
“The window glass had shattered due to the forces at work in the collision and fall, offering no resistance to her passage.
“Had she been wearing a seatbelt she is likely to have been restrained within her seat. No other injury sustained by her was life-threatening.
“The wearing of a seatbelt by herself and by others seated near to her may have prevented Natasha’s death.”
The inquiry found Natasha died from drowning as a result of becoming pinned underneath the bus after she was thrown out of window by the force of the collision.
Mr Munro, 63, from Bothwell, Lanarkshire, did not appear at the inquiry due to ill health and he has not faced any criminal charges over the incident.
The Crown Office said they would keep the case under review and may prosecute him if fresh evidence emerged.
Sheriff Stewart did not criticise school staff or South Lanarkshire Council for allowing the trip to go ahead despite the weather conditions.
She said: “Whilst the poor and deteriorating weather conditions undoubtedly played a role in the accident and the difficulties associated with its immediate aftermath, no criticism was or should be levelled at any of those responsible for organising and supervising the trip that morning in respect of any failure to adequately prepare for or respond to weather conditions.”
Mr Munro’s legal team had previously told the inquiry said that he did not accept responsibility for the accident.
His lawyer Barry Smith said: “It is accepted by Mr Munro that a reasonable precaution whereby the death might have been avoided was to travel at a lower speed at the accident locus.
“That is not accompanied by a concession that he should have travelled at a lower speed.”
A Crown Office spokesman said: “It is the duty of the Crown to keep cases under review, and we reserve the right to proceed in the future should further evidence become available.”
A South Lanarkshire Council spokeswoman said: “The Council express its sincere condolences to the Paton family and fully endorses the views expressed in the determination which acknowledge the family’s ‘fortitude and dedication to Natasha’s memory throughout this long and difficult process.’
“We also recognise that for everyone touched by this accident this is a very sensitive time as they reflect on the findings of the report.
“The Lanark Grammar school community has continued to work together in the three years since Natasha’s death to support each other and come to terms with her loss. She will never be forgotten.
“The Council will reflect and give careful consideration to the findings and determination published in the Sheriff’s report.”