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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 is being investigated over an allegation of involuntary homicide, French prosecutors said.
The driver, named in reports as Derek Thompson, 47, appeared before a judge in Chalons-en-Champagne, prosecutor Christian de Rocquigny confirmed.
He has now been released and is returning to England on condition he will return to a French court at a later date.
Most of the 49 British nationals who were on the coach are back in the UK, however seven people remain in hospital in France, the Foreign Office said.
Initial tests had showed Mr Thompson was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and local police are believed to be investigating whether he might have fallen asleep at the wheel.
After a court hearing, Mr de Rocquigny said the driver, who was slightly injured, was being investigated for involuntary homicide and involuntary wounding.
"He is going back to England on the condition that he will return to a French court later," he 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.
"While being questioned the driver, having denied falling asleep, has acknowledged that it was possible that he did so."
Dozens of children were injured when the bus flipped over and plunged to the bottom of a motorway embankment in the Champagne-Ardenne region.
Teacher Peter Rippington, 59, died in the crash near Rheims, and his wife Sharon and daughter Amy were also injured in the crash, which involved 29 pupils from Alvechurch Middle School in Alvechurch, Worcestershire.
A 13-year-old girl was critically injured, Mr de Rocquigny said, and was transferred to the Necker children's hospital in Paris, where he said her condition was unknown.
A Foreign Office spokesman said most of the 49 British nationals who were on the coach are back in the UK but seven people remain in hospital in France.
He said: "Our thoughts remain with everyone involved in or affected by the tragic bus crash in France yesterday morning.
"The Foreign and Commonwealth Office continues to provide consular support to everyone involved and is working closely with French and UK authorities.
"The majority of the 49 British nationals who were on the coach are back in the UK, however seven people remain in hospital in France.
"We would like to thank the French authorities and emergency services for the outstanding assistance they have provided to those involved in this tragic event."
Tributes poured in for Mr Rippington, who was described by Bryan Maybee, chairman of governors of Alvechurch Middle School, as a "dedicated and inspirational teacher" who would be sadly missed by all those who knew him.
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."
The Rector of Alvechurch, the Reverend David Martin, also paid his own tribute to Mr Rippington.
Issuing a statement near the school's main gate, he said: "The church community are holding all those affected by yesterday's shocking crash in our prayers, especially Peter's family.
"Peter was very much part of the wider community in Alvechurch and was known and liked by many.
"He gave his whole life to Alvechurch Church of England Middle School and will be sadly missed."