Ben Ireland reports from the Royal Courts of Justice in London
Leading UK tour operators Tui and Thomas Cook carried out no security assessments before the Sousse attacks, an inquest into the death of 30 Britons at the Tunisian resort has heard.
Andrew Ritchie QC, representing 18 of the families of the victims of the massacre, accused the operators of shirking their responsibilities despite information showing tourists were at threat.
In the wake of the Bardo museum attack, which left 20 tourists dead in Tunis three months before the Sousse attacks, hotels were told to ramp up security, documents shown at the inquest revealed.
The court was told Tui was sent an email from an independent security expert which highlighting an Islamic State YouTube video which boasted about the Bardo attack and vowed future attacks on Tunisia.
But Ritchie alleged security was not increased and called on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to enforce a rule which forces tour operators to label countries as “high risk” when selling them, if that adheres to online FCO advice.
Minutes from a meeting around a month after the June 26 Sousse attack disclosed Tui – which co-owned the Imperial Marhaba Hotel where the attack took place – had improved hotel security whereas Thomas Cook “don’t hold the hotels to account for security”.
Currently, a voluntary partnership between operators and the FCO is set up whereby it is “expected” that operators include links to travel advice on the government website.
That travel advice for Tunisia suggested a “high” threat of terrorism in Tunisia ahead of the Sousse attack.
Giving evidence on day two of the inquest, Jane Marriott from the FCO said: “How the travel industry raises that awareness is a matter for them.”
The coroner, Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith, asked how those who are not adept with computers could check travel advice, and asked if brochures were expected to signpost customers to travel advice.
Marriott said a telephone “hotline” was discontinued in 2013 due to lack of use and said people can write in to the FCO.
Ritchie asked Marriott whether it was “acceptable” that one of his clients, when asked whether it was safe to travel to Tunisia, was told “100%” and not shown or referred to travel advice.
She replied: “We would expect this information [travel advice] to be flagged up”.
The inquest also heard that after Bardo, there had been more than 200 emails and 60 Facebook comments from concerned holidaymakers concerned for their safety or who wanted to cancel their trips.
“Unfortunately, and I’m afraid to say as usual, some customers are being told their hands are tied by the travel advice, which neatly shifts the blame away from the tour operators and on to us,” an internal Foreign and Commonwealth Office email shown to the court said.
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