Judge to deliver conclusions at inquest into deaths of Tunisia attack victims
The families of British victims of the Tunisia terror attack are expected to gather on Tuesday to hear the final chapter of the inquest into the deaths of their loved ones.
Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith is due to deliver his conclusions over the slaughter of 30 Britons killed when extremist Seifeddine Rezgui opened fire in Sousse on June 26 2015, shooting 38 people dead.
The inquest into the deaths of his British victims at the five-star Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel began at the Royal Courts of Justice on January 16 and is expected to conclude on Tuesday.
Andrew Ritchie QC, counsel to the families of the victims, said last week that Judge Loraine-Smith, who is sitting as coroner, should consider a "neglect" conclusion, arguing that there had been "gross neglect" on the part of the TUI travel company.
He told the inquest that the Tunisian government was taking the terror risk seriously, but TUI and the hotel operators did not.
He said that the hotel owners, hotel operators and the travel companies provided the guests with security, making them "dependent" upon them for their safety.
Mr Ritchie said the verdict the families want the coroner to reach is either the neglect verdict, or if that is not reached, then a "neutral" conclusion.
Samantha Leek QC, counsel to the inquest, did not agree with the suggestion for the coroner to return a "neglect" conclusion, and the coroner himself indicated that he would not accept the neglect submission.
In deciding whether to give a "neglect" verdict, Judge Loraine-Smith will consider whether the victims were in a position of dependency, if there was gross neglect, and if that gross neglect contributed to the deaths.
Howard Stevens QC, counsel for TUI, dismissed Mr Ritchie's call for the coroner to consider a "neglect" conclusion, saying that "matters could have been worse" during the terror attack.
He said the coroner could not "simply dismiss the security presence", and that if there were additional CCTV cameras or static guards at the beach gate it "cannot be said that any of these measures would probably have made a difference".
Mr Stevens said that Mr Ritchie's suggestion that the beach gate should have been shut or locked to stop the attacker entering the hotel did not amount to a "gross failure".
He said the travel company operated on Foreign Office (FCO) advice and would not send tourists there if the Government advised "against all or all but essential travel".
Andrew O'Connor, counsel to the FCO, urged the coroner to make a "short, neutral and non-judgmental" conclusion.
In March 2015, 24 people were killed in a terror attack at Bardo National Museum in the capital, Tunis, and s ome of the families of those caught in the Sousse attack said they had been assured by the travel company that it was safe to travel to Tunisia after the Bardo attack.
Paul Thompson said that he and his wife were "pushed" towards choosing Tunisia, that they were told the atrocity was a "one-off", adding that another travel agent likened it to avoiding Skegness if there was an attack in London.
Mr Thompson said his wife Zoe mentioned the Bardo attack to the travel agent, and said they were told it was a "one-off" and the place was "100% safe".
A Thomson travel agent told the inquest she did not give a safety guarantee to the couple, and that she would not say somewhere is completely safe.