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Thomas Cook boss to meet parents

Published 20/05/2015

Christi and Bobby Shepherd died at a hotel complex in Corfu in October 2006. (West Yorkshire Police/PA)
Christi and Bobby Shepherd died at a hotel complex in Corfu in October 2006. (West Yorkshire Police/PA)

A meeting between the boss of Thomas Cook and the family of two young children killed by carbon monoxide poisoning in Corfu will take place tomorrow.

Peter Fankhauser, chief executive of the travel firm, has admitted the company failed in its handling of the tragedy and pledged to help the children's parents move on with their lives.

He issued a public apology to them as the company seeks to halt a mounting reputational crisis over the way it has treated the family since the incident.

He said: " I'm deeply sorry - as a father myself - about the tragic deaths of Bobby and Christi Shepherd in 2006 on a Thomas Cook holiday.

"It's absolutely clear that there are things we as a company could have done better during the last nine years - in particular how we have conducted our relationship with the family."

Speaking after the release of Thomas Cook's half-year results, Mr Fankhauser also vowed to apologise directly to the family of Bobby and Christi, from Horbury, near Wakefield, who died at the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel on the Greek holiday island in 2006 when they were overcome by fumes from a faulty boiler.

Some customers have threatened to boycott Thomas Cook after it emerged that the firm received around £3 million compensation from the hotel chain responsible for the incident, and following criticisms from the family.

Thomas Cook said earlier this week that it would donate £1.5 million to the charity Unicef, while the remaining £1.5 million went to its insurers for underwriting legal fees.

But the children's parents, Neil Shepherd and Sharon Wood, hit out at the firm, saying they had not been consulted by Thomas Cook about the donation to Unicef.

The family have a particular children's charity they have been supporting and to which relatives and friends have been donating in Bobby and Christi's memory.

Last week, a jury at the inquest gave a conclusion of unlawful killing and s aid Thomas Cook ''breached their duty of care''.

Following the inquest, the family blasted the company for failing to apologise directly, saying it was "disgraceful" that an apparent letter of apology from Mr Fankhauser was only brought to their attention by journalists.

In an investor presentation following the firm's half-year figures, Mr Fankhauser said he wanted to make amends.

"You will understand that I'm not going to repeat the mistakes of the past by talking about the family in public and my intention is to see how we can help them move on with their lives," he said.

The 174-year-old company's figures revealed that it narrowed seasonal first-half losses to £303 million in the six months to March 31, from £366 million a year earlier.

Underlying earnings improved to a £173 million loss in the first half, down by £18 million stripping out a £5 million boost from the timing of Easter this year.

Results showed that its summer programme was 62% sold to date - up two points on a year earlier.

Mr Fankhauser , who took over as Thomas Cook's chief executive in November, t old the Financial Times that bookings had not been affected by the mounting public backlash over its handling of the carbon monoxide tragedy.

He said: " We have not noticed any impact on our booking patterns.

"That is hard to say on a daily basis. But in this case this is not our primary focus. The primary focus is that we can resolve this matter."

Bobby and Christi, aged six and seven, died when they were overcome by fumes from a faulty boiler as they stayed in a bungalow in the grounds of the hotel with their father and his partner, now wife, Ruth, in October 2006.

A two-week inquest heard that the youngsters died due to multiple flaws in the installation and maintenance of the hot water boiler in an outbuilding next to the bungalow where they were staying on a half-term break.

Mr and Mrs Shepherd were with Christi and Bobby when the tragedy happened and were found unconscious next to the dead children.

A Thomas Cook spokeswoman confirmed tonight that the meeting would take place tomorrow but had no immediate information on the timing or location.

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