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Corfu carbon monoxide deaths: Parents welcome 'damning' report on Thomas Cook

Published 02/11/2015

Christi and Bobby Shepherd died from carbon monoxide poisoning while on a Thomas Cook holiday in Corfu (West Yorkshire Police/PA)
Christi and Bobby Shepherd died from carbon monoxide poisoning while on a Thomas Cook holiday in Corfu (West Yorkshire Police/PA)

A review criticising Thomas Cook for putting costs ahead of customers' needs has been welcomed by the parents of two children who died at one of the travel company's resorts.

Bobby and Christi Shepherd, aged six and seven, died at the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel in Corfu when they were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes from a faulty boiler during a holiday with their father and stepmother in October 2006.

An independent review into Thomas Cook's management has urged the tour operator to make changes to its health and safety and customer relations practices.

It was also described as "damning" in its assessment of the firm's relationship with the family in the nine years since the deaths.

An inquest earlier this year into the deaths of Bobby and Christi, from Horbury, near Wakefield, found they were unlawfully killed and the tour operator breached its duty of care.

Sharon Wood and Neil Shepherd, the children's parents, said the report, carried out by former Sainsbury's chief executive Justin King, was "a move in the right direction and the next step in what has been a long, hard fight for justice".

The report found there was an "over-emphasis on financial and reputational risk and less emphasis on customer consequences and outcomes than is appropriate".

It said: " Individual profit centres such as the 'airline' and 'destination management' (divisions) have a tendency to protect cost rather than maximise the customer experience.

"Their approach is closer to 'What's the minimum we can do to solve the problem?' rather than 'What should we do to make this as good as we can?'. This is a cultural as much as a financial challenge."

The report also found that legal considerations dominated the way in which Thomas Cook dealt with the family after the deaths, meaning that "decisions were often not taken in the thoughtful and caring way you would expect".

It said: "The company did reach out to the family several times over the years but these approaches were intermittent, sometimes ill-timed and often ill-judged."

Mr King made 49 recommendations about health and safety, carbon monoxide, quality assurance and contracting, destination management, customer service and relations and incident management.

Thomas Cook, which described the review as "uncomfortable reading", said it accepted the findings and had already taken action on a number of recommendations.

Peter Fankhauser, chief executive of the tour operator, said he wanted to change Thomas Cook into a "totally customer-centric company".

Mrs Wood and Mr Shepherd said they welcomed Thomas Cook's "new proactive approach in addressing the mistakes they made that led to the deaths of Christi and Bobby".

They said in a statement: "Our hope is that we can bring about change that will dramatically reduce the number of deaths and injuries from carbon monoxide, both in the UK and abroad.

"We feel optimistic for the future but continue to call for all tour operators to put the health and well-being of their customers at the heart of their industry."

The family is working with Thomas Cook to launch a new carbon monoxide charity, The Safer Tourism Foundation, and develop a "bereavement help pack".

Mary Creagh, MP for Wakefield, said: "Justin King's report pulls no punches in its damning assessment of Thomas Cook's treatment of Christi and Bobby's parents in the nine years since their tragic deaths.

"It finds the company's contact with the family was intermittent and abrupt and that staff had a focus on cost control and legal compliance rather than helping the family face these devastating events."

Mr Fankhauser told Channel 4 News he felt "ashamed" at the way the company treated the Shepherds, but hoped they had "forgiven" him. He said he was confident that Thomas Cook had "regained trust" from its customers.

Asked whether he could guarantee there would be no repeat of the tragedy, Mr Fankhauser said: "What I can promise is that everything is going to be done to prevent such a situation. I can promise as well that we are not going to treat anybody like we treated this family."

Thomas Cook was ready to spend "what it costs" to become an industry leader in health and safety standards, he said, adding: " We are talking millions, not thousands, of pounds. You can be assured that we are going to spend what it takes to be an industry leader on that."

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