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Thomas Cook 'didn't consult family'

Published 19/05/2015

Christi and Bobby Shepherd were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning while on holiday in Corfu (West Yorkshire Police/PA)
Christi and Bobby Shepherd were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning while on holiday in Corfu (West Yorkshire Police/PA)

The family of two young children who died from carbon monoxide poisoning while on holiday in Corfu have said they were not consulted by Thomas Cook about the firm's £1.5 million donation to Unicef.

The holiday company announced yesterday that it has donated a compensation payout it received following the deaths of Bobby and Christi Shepherd to the international children's charity as it apologised to their parents "for all they have gone through".

But Wakefield Labour MP Mary Creagh, who has been supporting the family, said she has spoken to the children's parents, Neil Shepherd and Sharon Wood, and they believe this latest move is all about the firm and not them.

Ms Creagh said: "Their feeling is that this once more is not about them, it's about Thomas Cook.

"Thomas Cook have not contacted them about this."

Ms Creagh said 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.

Thomas Cook's group chief executive, Peter Fankhauser, confirmed yesterday that the company had received £1.5 million from the owners of the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel on the Greek holiday island of Corfu, where the youngsters died.

Mr Fankhauser said: "I believe this is the right thing to do and I apologise to the family for all they have gone through."

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, Mr Shepherd, and his partner, now wife, Ruth, in October 2006.

Last week, an inquest jury concluded that Thomas Cook breached its duty of care to the family and returned verdicts of unlawful killing.

Since then, Mr Shepherd and the children's mother, Mrs Wood, have criticised Thomas Cook for failing to apologise to them.

Yesterday, Mr Fankhauser confirmed that his firm received the £1.5 million, mainly in respect of legal fees, as part of a £3 million settlement with Louis Group, the hotel owners.

The other £1.5 million went to Thomas Cook's insurers.

Mr Fankhauser said: "Thomas Cook has not in any way profited from our claim against the hotel owner.

"In late 2012, we brought a claim against the hotelier for breaching their contract to provide safe accommodation to our customers and to comply with all applicable laws, which was decided in our favour.

"Today I have made arrangements for the full amount - £1.5 million - to be donated in full to Unicef, the world's leading children's organisation."

The move by Thomas Cook follows further criticism of the firm from the parents of Bobby and Christi over the weekend.

Last Wednesday, a jury at the inquests concluded that the firm had "breached their duty of care" to the family and outlined a series of other shortcomings by the tour company.

After the end of the two-week inquest hearing in Wakefield, Mrs Wood said: "I will always hold Thomas Cook responsible for their deaths."

The family's barrister, Leslie Thomas QC, said the firm should "hang its head in shame".

The hearing was told that Bobby and Christi, from Horbury, near Wakefield, 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 two dead children.

The jury foreman read out a series of conclusions which included that Thomas Cook had been misled by the hotel about its gas supply but also that the holiday giant's health and safety audit of the complex was inadequate.

A number of former Thomas Cook staff, including its chief executive at the time of the tragedy, exercised their legal right not to answer questions during the inquests, infuriating Mr Shepherd and Mrs Wood.

Two Thomas Cook employees were tried in a Greek court for manslaughter but were cleared five years ago.

Four Greek nationals were convicted of offences relating to the deaths of the children and jailed but they were released pending appeal hearings.

The coroner at the inquests last week said he would deliver recommendations to relevant organisations later this year which he hoped would influence British and European law and practices in the holiday industry.

John McEwan, who worked for Thomas Cook for 30 years, said the family should have been consulted over the charitable donation.

Mr McEwan, who became managing director of the firm's international business and was chairman of industry body Abta between 2009 and 2013, said the money could have been used to set up something in the children's memory.

He also criticised the "belated" apology, which lacked "warmth", and said the firm should have been more proactive.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "The donation that has been made to Unicef is very laudable, but you get the impression it was done because they felt they had to.

"I think they should have consulted the family. I think they should have actually had a discussion with the family about what would be best.

"I would have liked to have seen, for example, the family being involved ... in where should that money go, should it be used to set up a charity on behalf of the children which would perpetuate their memory?

"There should have been some offering of compassion, some recognition that this has been an appalling tragedy and some care exhibited for the family."

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