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The lawyer representing the family of two young children who died of carbon monoxide poisoning while on a Thomas Cook holiday in Corfu has said the operator should “hang its head in shame”.
The comments were made outside Wakefield Coroners’ Court today after a jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing over the deaths, following a two-week hearing.
The coroner is expected to make recommendations to the travel industry and the possibility of further legal action remains, although the mother of the dead children appeared to suggest the case had reached a conclusion.
The mother of Bobby and Christianne Shepherd, aged six and seven, added that she would “always hold Thomas Cook responsible for the deaths”.
The children, from Horbury, died at the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel when they were overcome by fumes from a faulty boiler in October 2006.
They were on a half-term break with their father, Neil, and his partner, now wife, Ruth, when the tragedy happened.
In 2010 a criminal trial held in Corfu found three employees from the Louis Corcyra Beach hotel guilty of manslaughter. The inquest jury found that the hotel had misled or lied to Thomas Cook about the presence of gas in the hotel.
Speaking after the hearing, Leslie Thomas QC, said: “Thomas Cook you are a multi-million pound operation. You take money from families like this one who expect to go on holiday and have the time of their lives.
“They do not expect to return from their holiday with their children in coffins because Thomas Cook staff failed to properly inspect standards of the hotel they stayed in.
“These children, the jury has found, were killed unlawfully. Thomas Cook should hang its head in shame as a result of these deaths. The family of Bobby and Christi have waited nearly nine years for an apology, and they are still waiting.
“They invited Cook to apologise last week and the chief executive said “we have nothing to apologise for”.
“Well Mr Fankhauser, today this jury found that your staff did not carry out proper health and safety audits, they were not trained and the checks were not carried out vigilantly. We ask, will you say sorry now?”
The children’s mother, Sharon Wood, said: “For everyone whose lives Christi and Bobby touched, I am hugely relieved that our fight for justice is over.
“We asked for lessons to be learned from our children's deaths; it will now fall to the coroner's recommendations to force Thomas Cook to act more responsibly in future.
“Thomas Cook said they offered our family practical and financial support. This is simply not true. Whilst we appreciate there were criminal convictions in Corfu, it is clear that Thomas Cook could and should have identified that lethal boiler.
“Thomas Cook put Christi and Bobby in that bungalow and I will always hold Thomas Cook responsible for their deaths.”
The children’s father, Neil Shepherd, added: “The bottom line is had Thomas Cook followed their own policy, Christi and Bobby would still be alive.”
A Thomas Cook spokeswoman said: “Everyone at Thomas Cook was shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Robert and Christianne Shepherd in 2006.
“Thomas Cook recognises that the pain caused by this terrible accident will never go away and must be still very hard for friends and family to bear.
“The Greek authorities launched a thorough criminal investigation in 2010 which found three of the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel employees guilty of manslaughter; that investigation cleared Thomas Cook's employees of any wrong doing.
“The coroner had directed the jury that the only conclusion to reach was unlawful killing as legally it had to be consistent with the Greek verdicts.
“The systems which were in place in 2006, which were intended to prevent such a tragedy, have since been thoroughly revised and address the criticisms made by the jury.
“Thomas Cook works with dedicated specialist external health and safety experts to audit holiday properties.
“The health and safety of our customers is of paramount importance and we continuously review and strive to improve all our procedures.”
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