The deaths of Susan and John Cooper must be explained, says Ian Taylor
Holidaymakers Susan and John Cooper were buried this week at a private funeral.
That will be of relief to their family and friends, but it won’t end the questions over how the Coopers died last month in their hotel room in Hurghada.
The couple, on a Thomas Cook holiday with their daughter and three grandchildren, went to bed in the Steigenberger Aqua Magic Hotel on the evening of August 20 in seeming good health.
They were found seriously ill in their room the following morning. Both died within hours.
The Egyptian authorities attributed the deaths to E.coli bacteria in an announcement last week.
The limited comments on this finding from Thomas Cook, and the daughter’s outright rejection of the Egyptian account, speak volumes.
A UK inquest into the deaths opened this week and was adjourned the same day to await further evidence. The coroner, Dr Adeley, warned the process could be lengthy.
He noted just a single document had been submitted by the Egyptian authorities stating E.coli as the cause of death.
Dr Adeley also noted he had been made aware that E.coli would be unlikely to cause such rapid deaths.
The inquest heard Susan, who worked for Thomas Cook, and John had noted an “acetone-type” smell in their room the night before their deaths which had led them to remove their granddaughter from the room.
The coroner noted it had been established “the next-door room had been fumigated”.
On the morning of August 21, John Cooper collapsed in the room “and could not be revived” and Susan died in an ambulance on the way to hospital.
Further findings “may take some weeks or possibly several months” – so we must wait.
The onus will be on the coroner to come up with answers, but inquests can prove inconclusive and there is pressure on Thomas Cook to get to the bottom of what happened.
The group has clearly been desperate to get things right.
Thomas Cook chief executive Peter Fankhauser told the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Europe leaders Forum in Lisbon last week: “This has dominated my thoughts and actions for the last three weeks. My only focus is to ensure the business does the right thing.”
He said: “Many questions are still not answered.
“We had to be decisive, to be transparent. Because we didn’t know what happened, we withdrew all our customers from the hotel.
“There will be some who say we overreacted, but as a chief executive who faced a major reputational crisis in his first six months, I was determined to show we have changed as a company.”
Fankhauser had to deal in 2015 with the inquest into the deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning of children Bobby and Christi Shepherd on a Thomas Cook holiday in Corfu in 2006.
The Thomas Cook chief had been due to address the WTTC forum on ‘Winning the customer of tomorrow’, but he told industry leaders he could not do so “without addressing the customers who died”.
He appealed to fellow leaders, insisting: “We have to get better as an industry, to learn from incidents and share as an industry, to make it safer and better for customers.”
Thus far – and this is no fault of Thomas Cook’s – it is hard to escape the conclusion that the deaths remain not just fully explained but not fully explored. And that is an issue for every company sending customers to Egypt.
Until there is full access to all the evidence – access to buildings, staff, logs and so on and to evidence of how thoroughly the deaths have been investigated – the questions will remain.
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