A ski lift pilot and his employer have been charged with involuntary manslaughter over the death of a British teenager during a school trip to the French Alps.
Kieran Brookes, 14, was strangled when the straps of his backpack became entangled as he tried to get off a ski lift in the Alpine resort of Chatel in February 2011.
Now, more than four years after the incident, Richard Cettour, 50, of Bonnevaux, France, who was supervising the lift at the time of the tragedy, and operator SAEM Sports et Tourisme a Chatel, will face a criminal trial in October accused of a series of serious health and safety breaches.
Kieran’s parents, Nick and Cindy Brookes, both NHS managers, of Bovey Tracey, Devon, have spoken of their need to establish the sequence of events that led to his death so no other family will suffer a similar tragedy.
They hope the trial will finally provide them with answers to lingering questions surrounding their son’s death.
Nick, 50, said: “All this time after Kieran’s death we’re still not sure of exactly what happened. Not knowing the events which led to this is something which holds back the healing process.
“We have some information about what went so dreadfully wrong but not all the details. We have a jigsaw but with some of the pieces missing. We’re hoping that through the trial in France we will soon get those questions answered.”
Both Cettour and SAEM Sports et Tourisme a Chatel are accused of failing to enforce a rule banning skiers from boarding the lift while wearing backpacks, not carrying out daily checks on equipment and not ensuring a safety device which could stop the lift was properly installed.
Cettour, who should have been monitoring the safety of skiers using the lift, is also accused of a number of failings, including not being at his post at the time of the skiing accident and not reacting to other skiers’ calls to hit the emergency stop.
Kieran, a pupil at Torquay Boys' Grammar School who had been one of the brightest maths prospects in the country after scoring 96 per cent in a national test, had been on a six person ski lift when the tragedy struck. It is believed his backpack got stuck on the ski lift chair as he tried to climb off at the top of the slope.
Kieran was suspended by his clothing for around four minutes before he was released, according to eyewitness accounts.
First aiders battled for eight minutes to revive him before he was taken to hospital in Annecy with a severe brain injury. He was transferred to the Royal Devon Exeter Hospital Intensive Care Unit where he died nearly a month later on March 17, 2011.
Mr Brookes added: “It feels so very fresh because we are still going over the events in our mind. I think it’s natural as parents to ask the questions; could more have been done to save Kieran, did he suffer, what went wrong and what can be done to prevent this from ever happening to another family.
“It’s like we have an open wound that we can’t close because we don’t have the resources at our disposal.
“The hole in our life left by Kieran will always be there – all the future we would have had together is missing.
“But it’s so difficult not being able yet to point at something positive to come from this tragedy – some safety improvements that we can say were made as a result of what we learned from Kieran’s death. Hopefully, the trial will help us understand.”
Cindy, 52, added: “He was academically bright but also loved to be physically active and was a member of the army cadets. He dreamed of becoming a doctor and helping people. He wanted to be a GP. We couldn’t bury Kieran for six months because of the police investigation. We also couldn’t donate his organs which was something that would have given us some comfort.
“The comfort that we’re looking for now is that we can say that something good came of this, that lessons have been learnt from this which will make things safer.”
Slater and Gordon Personal Injury Lawyer, representing Kieran's family said, “The French prosecutor has enough evidence to bring two charges of involuntary manslaughter in this case against the pilot of the ski lift and the company which employed him.
“It has been devastating for Kieran’s family to lose a much-loved son in these circumstances. But they are determined that the full facts of what happened are revealed and any safety failings exposed so that no other family has to suffer a similar tragedy again.”
Slater and Gordon Lawyers are a leading personal injury law firm with more than 1,450 staff and 18 offices in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Milton Keynes, Merseyside, Bristol, Newcastle, Halifax, Wakefield, Derby, Cambridge and meeting rooms in Bramhall, Cheshire and in Hull, Yorkshire.