TWENTY years after 12 children – including five from Wyre Forest – were killed in a minibus crash, their parents fear lessons have not been learned from the tragedy.
They have come together to launch new safety campaign, Now is the Time, to ensure a similar disaster will never happen again.
The families claim only “luck” has prevented a similar tragedy, which they are still haunted by, 20 years on.
The Hagley RC High School pupils were returning from a trip to the Royal Albert Hall in London when the minibus, being driven by teacher, Eleanor Fry, who also died, crashed into a stationary motorway maintenance lorry, parked on the hard shoulder of the M40, and burst into flames.
Children killed in the crash, on November 18, 1993, included Claire Fitzgerald, of Bewdley, Louise Gunn, of Stourport, Richard Pagett and Anna Mansell, of Kidderminster, and Charlene O’Dowd, of Stone. The school marked the anniversary with a memorial mass on Monday.
An inquest recorded a verdict of accidental deaths and a new law was brought in to make seat-belts standard equipment on all minibuses and coaches.
The families of the victims claim the changes were not enough to prevent accidents and more should have been done to improve safety.
Steve Fitzgerald, father of victim Claire, said he painfully relived the night as he marked the anniversary on Monday.
“It is one of the saddest times for us,” he said. “But in particular we have been saddened in the extreme by the failure to learn those lessons that blatantly have not been learned.
“Most of all, though, we are angry that this could so easily happen again because there is no desire to put child safety first, over and above budget.
“Surely, as a lasting memorial to Claire and her friends, those wonderful, talented children whose lives were ended much too early because they were failed by the system, now is the time to show them and their families the respect they deserve but have not yet been afforded. Now is the time.”
He is helping to launch the campaign with the Belt Up School Kids (BUSK) pressure group. They are calling for measures to ensure volunteeroperated buses are regulated properly to stop accidents happening.
Schools and other groups can drive minibuses without any checks, under a Permit 19 document.
Mr Fitzgerald added: “On the 20th anniversary of the death of our children, we simply ask what lessons have been learned from the 20 years we have had without our children?
Not nearly enough.
Certainly nothing is in place to prevent such a crash from happening again.”