Girl, 15, who died in coach crash on M53 ‘was one of few wearing seatbelt’

Girl, 15, who died in coach crash on M53 ‘was one of few wearing seatbelt’

Jessica Baker was on her way to school in Wirral, Merseyside, when the coach crashed in September last year (Picture: PA)

A schoolgirl killed in a coach crash when the driver collapsed at the wheel was one of the few passengers wearing a seatbelt, an inquest has heard.

Jessica Baker, 15, was on her way to West Kirby Grammar School in Wirral, Merseyside, when the bus crashed on the M53 just after 8am on September 29 last year.

An inquest at Gerard Majella Courthouse in Liverpool on Thursday heard that 40-year-old driver Stephen Shrimpton, who also died, was suffering heart disease which caused him to lose consciousness.

Senior coroner Andre Rebello said CCTV footage showed many on the bus were ‘unrestrained’ but Jessica appeared to be sitting in place ‘not moving in the same way everyone else is moving’.

Her post-mortem examination showed bruising consistent with wearing a seatbelt.

Mr Rebello said: ‘It would be my ruling it is more likely than not that Jessica was wearing a seatbelt at the time of this collision.’

Jessica has been described as ‘warm-hearted’ and ‘wonderful’ (Picture: Family Handout/PA Wire)

After the inquest was opened in October, he issued a prevention of future deaths report which raised concerns about the use of seatbelts as CCTV did not show they were being used.

In the report, which was sent to the Secretary of State for Transport and the Secretary of State for Education, Mr Rebello said: ‘A distinction should be drawn between school buses in built-up areas and school commuter coaches travelling a distance using A roads and the motorway network – with regard to the availability and use of seatbelts.’

About 50 students travelling to West Kirby and Calday Grange grammar schools were on the coach at the time of the crash.

Jessica had been dropped off at the bus stop near her home in Blacon, Chester that morning, dressed in her PE kit and ready for a day at school.

The inquest heard that CCTV showed Mr Shrimpton, who was not wearing a seatbelt, slump to his left-hand side before the vehicle left the motorway, going up an embankment, hitting a tree and rolling back on to the hard shoulder.

Mr Rebello said a post-mortem examination showed the driver had extensive ischemic heart disease which could have caused an abrupt collapse and sudden death.

The bus driver was suffering from a heart condition when he collapsed at the wheel (Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)

The court heard the test results could explain symptoms of chest and arm pain which he had described the evening before the collision, but it was not clear whether he had symptoms that morning.

Mr Rebello said no inquest was held into Mr Shrimpton’s death as it was due to natural causes.

He added that Jessica’s cause of death was a head injury and recorded a conclusion of road traffic collision.

Jessica’s parents, nurses Sean Baker and Sarah Merrington, were in court for the inquest. Mr Rebello told the family: ‘I know she was very much loved.’

After the crash, four other children on the bus were taken to hospital, including a 14-year-old boy whose injuries are said to be ‘life-changing’, according to Merseyside Police.

Other injuries were handled at an emergency training centre, with 13 people being treated for minor injuries.

Lawyers for the coach company, Carvers Coaches, and a child who was seriously injured in the collision attended the inquest, along with a lawyer representing Jessica’s family.

After Jessica’s death, her family paid tribute to the talented climber, who they described as a ‘warm-hearted, wonderful daughter, granddaughter and niece, devoted sister and loyal friend’.

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