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Child deaths 'must be unlawful'

Published 12/05/2015

Christi and Bobby Shepherd died while on holiday (West Yorkshire Police/PA Wire)
Christi and Bobby Shepherd died while on holiday (West Yorkshire Police/PA Wire)

A jury considering its verdicts at the inquests into th e deaths of two young children who died of carbon monoxide poisoning during a holiday in Greece has been told by a coroner the only conclusion it can come to is unlawful killing.

A two-week long hearing has heard how Bobby and Christi Shepherd, aged six and seven, died at the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel, on Corfu, when they were overcome by fumes from a faulty boiler.

Today, the jury at Wakefield Coroner's Court retired to consider its conclusions.

But the jurors were told by West Yorkshire Coroner David Hinchliff that it had been agreed that the only conclusion they could come to "would be a conclusion of unlawful killing".

Mr Hinchliff then told the jury: "This has been a complex, difficult and sometimes harrowing exercise. But you have to make your determination based on the evidence that you've heard and not on any feelings of sympathy and empathy with the family."

Bobby and Christi, from Horbury, near Wakefield, were on a half-term break with their father, Neil, and his partner, now wife, Ruth, when the tragedy happened in October 2006.

Mr and Mrs Shepherd sat in the court today to listen to the coroner sum up the evidence, as they have done throughout the inquest.

Next to them sat the children's mother, Sharon Wood, who has also followed the proceedings from the public gallery with her husband, Paul.

They have heard that Bobby and Christi were found dead in a bungalow in the grounds of the hotel by a chambermaid. Mr and Mrs Shepherd were found in comas but later recovered.

Christi and Bobby had felt ill the day before they were found dead and, at bedtime, the adults were also not feeling well.

Mr and Mrs Shepherd went into the children's bedroom to help them but do not remember anything else until they woke in hospital.

The jury has heard that Bobby and Christi were poisoned by carbon monoxide from a faulty hot water boiler housed in an outbuilding attached to the side of the bungalow.

There were a series of faults in the rusting boiler, including a failure to fit a flue, a water leak which meant it was over-working, a crucial safety device that had been short-circuited and holes left in the walls between the outbuilding and the bedroom when air conditioning pipes had been installed.

The coroner called this final error a "bodged and botched" job.

A couple who stayed in the bungalow immediately before the Shepherds told the inquest they also became ill.

They were taken to hospital but not diagnosed at the time with carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Shepherds had booked the £2,000 holiday with Thomas Cook and a series of former employees of the firm went into the witness box and exercised their legal right not to answer questions.

This included the chief executive of the holiday company at the time of the tragedy, Manny Fontenla-Novoa.

Asked in the witness box whether the firm put "profit before safety", Mr Fontenla-Novoa refused to answer.

But the current chief executive, Peter Fankhauser said: "I feel so thoroughly, from the deepest of my heart, sorry but there's no need to apologise because there was no wrongdoing by Thomas Cook."

Mr Fankhauser said the right checks were not carried out because the hotel lied to Thomas Cook, saying there were no gas-fuelled water heaters at the complex.

He said the company representatives undertook safety checks based on this misinformation.

Another former Thomas Cook employee who exercised her right not to answer questions which could be self-incriminatory was holiday rep Nicola Jordison, who was called Nicola Gibson at the time of the tragedy.

Ms Jordison and customer affairs executive Richard Carson were both put on trial by the Greek authorities charged with manslaughter by negligence in relation to the children and causing bodily injury by negligence to Mr and Mrs Shepherd. Both were cleared by three judges in 2010.

A number of Greek people were also charged with offences relating to the children's deaths and four were convicted, the jury has been told.

The jury has also been told that the Crown Prosecution Service examined a police file on the tragedy and decided not to prosecute any individuals who worked for Thomas Cook nor the company itself.

The coroner explained to the jury how it will have to fill out an official form relating to the children's deaths.

He said one of the jury's tasks was to provide a brief explanation of how, why and when the children died.

The jury was later sent home for the night and will continue its deliberations tomorrow.

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