M40 minibus crash
|Date||18 November 1993|
|Location||M40 motorway near Warwick, England|
|Property damage||1 minibus destroyed; motorway maintenance vehicle damaged; road surface scorched|
The minibus was transporting 14 children home to Worcestershire from a school trip to London when it veered into the rear of the motorway maintenance lorry which was stationary on the hard shoulder. Twelve of the 14 children and the driver of the minibus, their teacher, were killed in the crash, one of the worst on the British road network. The two survivors sustained minor injuries.
The driver of the minibus, 35-year-old teacher Eleanor Fry, had driven the 14 children to London during the afternoon of the previous day (Wednesday 17 November), then watched a concert of young musicians with them at the Royal Albert Hall, and was driving back afterward. Fry had driven the eight-year-old vehicle, which had passed its MOT test two weeks prior, several times before both in the United Kingdom and abroad, and was described as a competent and experienced driver by the education officer for Hereford and Worcester.
Shortly after midnight, the vehicle struck a 12.5-ton Bedford motorway maintenance truck parked on the hard shoulder of an unlit stretch of the M40 near junction 15. The truck's safety lights were flashing. The minibus, which was estimated to be travelling at 73 to 84 mph at the time of the collision, exploded shortly after the crash and the bodies of several victims remained trapped in the wreckage.
Fry and ten of the children died on scene. Two other children died later in hospital from their injuries and two who survived the crash recovered from relatively minor injuries. Three men who were in the maintenance lorry were unhurt and pulled seven of the minibus occupants clear of the wreckage. All of the children involved were aged between 12 and 13 and were pupils at Hagley RC High School in Hagley, near Birmingham.
The child victims were:
- Charlotte Bligh, 13
- Ruth Clark, 12
- Fiona Cook, 12
- Claire Fitzgerald, 13
- Louise Gunn, 12
- James Hickman, 12
- Adele Howell, 12
- Anna Mansell, 13
- Nicola Misiolek, 12
- Richard Pagett, 12
- Charlene O'Dowd, 12 (died later in Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham)
- Katie Murray, 12 (died the following day in South Warwickshire Hospital)
Holly Caldwell and Bethan O'Doherty survived. A second minibus carrying another group of pupils from Hagley High School who had also attended the London concert passed the crash scene and made it home safely to Worcestershire. Its driver, teacher Bernard Tedd, later told how he had a "feeling of dread" that the crashed vehicle on the hard shoulder was the other minibus, but had decided to continue driving. A Warwickshire Fire Brigade public relations officer said Tedd had "saved those children from witnessing the worst accident any of us has ever seen."
The day after the crash, journalists gathered outside the school in Hagley, documenting the reaction of staff and pupils. The news media were managed by the authorities, with journalists corralled off from the school, in exchange for being provided with human interest information for their stories. Most national newspapers carried a photograph of two grieving schoolgirls, who were clearly identifiable from the picture; readers complained in writing that they considered this to be insensitive and an invasion of the girls' privacy.
Some newspapers were criticised for sensationalism and invasion of privacy, but the BBC was criticised by journalists for the opposite: the BBC's evening news programme on the day, the Nine O'Clock News carried the story about the crash as its third item.
Several memorials were unveiled at Hagley RC High School, including a stained-glass window (commissioned from Art of Glass, a stained-glass painting company in Solihull, shortly after the crash) and a music suite (constructed by Thomas Vale, in a new school building that was later built). The stained-glass window on the school's stairway measures 14 ft by 3 ft, and includes an inscription listing the victims and a musical score and instruments.
A public memorial was also erected by the district council in Brinton Park, Kidderminster. Senses Garden was constructed, free of charge, by local builders, landscape architects, and plant experts. A memorial plaque in the garden, a wood carving by local artist Catherine O'Kell, commemorates those who died in the crash.
It was reported that the driver of the minibus, teacher Eleanor Fry, had fallen asleep at the wheel moments before it crashed into the lorry on the hard shoulder. An inquest into the crash in June 1994 recorded a verdict of accidental death on each of the victims. The inquest's most significant findings were that the minibus was not fitted with seatbelts, as legislation did not require minibuses or coaches to be at the time. The law was changed in 1997 to make seat-belts standard equipment on all minibuses and coaches as well as outlawing the "crew bus" - a minibus in which two opposing benches face towards each other - and promoting the forward facing coach.
After the crash a bus safety training package called Belt Up School Kids (BUSK) for pupils and teachers was established. It comprised safety training, in-class training for pupils, teachers, parents, voluntary personnel, and governors, and driver training, as well as advice to drivers on how to progress towards passenger-carrying vehicle (PCV) driving standards.
Several charities were formed in the wake of the collision. One was Brambles Trust, offering support to bereaved children, which was set up by the parents of Claire Fitzgerald, one of the victims. By 2002, four years after the charity was founded, it had helped 129 families across Worcestershire and the Black Country. That year it was awarded £75,000 by Children in Need and £270,000 from the Community Fund.
On 20 May 2001, the central carved panel of the plaque in the memorial garden in Kidderminster was stolen by thieves who cut through steel bands that had secured the carving to a steel spike fixed to the ground. O'Kell stated that it was irreplaceable because of the age of the wood.
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- Boggan, Steve (19 November 1993). "The M40 Crash: Day trip to disaster for 11 young musicians: Steve Boggan outlines the events leading to the accident which killed 11 pupils and a teacher after an outing to London". The Independent. London.
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- Heinonen, Ari (2006). "M40 Crash Controversy". In Keeble, Richard. Communication Ethics Today. Troubador Publishing. pp. 147–148. ISBN 1-905237-68-5.
- Davis, Stephen (28 November 1993). "How bad is the Nine O'Clock News? ; Reporting the M40 minibus crash as only third item on the corporation's flagship news has sparked an angry row among staff". The Independent. London. Retrieved July 2013. Check date values in:
- "Terrible tragedy's tenth anniversary". Worcester News. Newsquest Media Group. 12 July 2006.
- Walker, Jonathan (26 July 1998). "A first glass finish". The Independent. London.
- "Eric Troyer & Hagley R.C. High School Choir – Perpetual Light". Discogs. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
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- "Verdict on M40 Minibus Deaths; Verdict on deaths of pupils in M40 minibus crash". Daily Record. Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail Ltd. 1 July 1994.
- Eason, Kevin and Tim Jones (1 July 1994). "Families of M40 crash victims seek tougher safety laws". The Times. Times Newspapers Ltd.
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- "Seatbelt law still not enough". BBC News. 19 November 2003.
- Sarah Fitzgerald (24 November 2000). The Tale of Two Dolphins (When My Sister Died Suddenly). Bramble's Press. ISBN 0-9534476-2-6. — a book by the sister of Claire Fitzgerald about her sister's death
- "In memory of M-way crash dead". Worcester News. Newsquest Media Group. 17 November 2003.