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Tragic mother accuses ex-Cook boss

Published 29/05/2015

Sharon Wood has condemned travel giant Thomas Cook for its actions over the deaths of her children during a holiday in Corfu (Lauren Hurley/PA Wire)
Sharon Wood has condemned travel giant Thomas Cook for its actions over the deaths of her children during a holiday in Corfu (Lauren Hurley/PA Wire)

The mother of two children who were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning on holiday has accused Thomas Cook's former chief executive of trying to use their memory to gain public sympathy.

Sharon Wood said she heard that Harriet Green was in line for a lucrative bonus-related payout only through the Sunday newspapers, and that she hopes to donate a third of it to charity on Wednesday.

Ms Wood told a London press conference: "If Harriet Green feels the need to offload some of that money to salve her conscience, that is her decision to make, but to try and gain public empathy by attaching her donation to the memory of my Christi and Bobby I find abhorrent."

To suggest that her family have anything to do with it is "simply wrong and I wish to make that clear now".

It has been reported that Ms Green could receive six million shares next month, and she said she will give two million of them to a charity to be chosen by the children's parents.

She led Thomas Cook until last year, during a period in which the firm took legal action against the hotel involved and fought to stop inquests into the children's deaths taking place in the UK.

Thomas Cook has been hit by a new wave of public criticism after an inquest jury decided this month that Christi, seven, and Bobby, six, were unlawfully killed and that the holiday giant breached its duty of care.

The children were found dead in a bungalow in the grounds of a hotel in Corfu in 2006. They had been on a Thomas Cook holiday with their father Neil Shepherd and his partner, now wife, Ruth when they breathed in fumes from a faulty boiler.

An angry Ms Wood suggested that Thomas Cook should "reconsider" handing out the bonus because the success of a family-friendly company should not just be about money and share prices.

"It must also consider the well-being and safety of its customers whilst on holiday and the way they are subsequently treated," she said.

The size of Ms Green's bonus is "a matter for her own conscience", according to Ms Wood.

She added: "We believe that when she took the helm after this tragedy she did not move the company on with sensitivity towards us as a family.

"If the company's brand has suffered, those at the top of the organisation must accept responsibility in relation to the decisions made over the handling of us as a bereaved family."

She flatly denied that the children's father had received a letter offering a meeting with Ms Green. In fact he has still not had a response from her despite writing to her on at least five occasions since July 2013, Ms Wood said.

She added: " As for me, Harriet Green has never had the humanity or compassion to write to me as the bereaved mother of Christi and Bobby and, as far as I am aware, she makes no claim to having done this.

"I would have liked to have met with Harriet Green this week but I have been told that she is out of the country."

A series of furious letters from Mr Shepherd to Ms Green were released to show how the family have been made to feel "secondary" by Thomas Cook's continued failure to consult them, Ms Wood said.

In a July 2013 letter, Mr Shepherd wrote: "The only thoughts and sympathies your company has is on a piece of paper given to the media as a damage-limitation exercise!

" It states in the news bulletin that substantial damages have already been agreed to be paid to the family by the hotel, which again is something of a joke!

"Due to the fact that we do not have a bottomless pit of money and had run out, we were pushed into accepting a derisory offer due to the Greek economy and the threat of possibly receiving nothing.

"Every penny of compensation I have received has been invested for my children.

"It states that you are claiming damages for the trial costs along with compensation and refunds of affected holiday makers!"

In contrast, he points out that he got "absolutely nothing" from Thomas Cook and had to settle for a partial refund through his travel insurance.

As a grieving parent, he asks for a meeting with the company but he fired off another letter four months later because he had "not received a promised reply".

Mr Shepherd tells the lawyers of his "anger" that Thomas Cook is issuing "upsetting and inappropriate statements" in September 2013. There was still no personal response from Ms Green a month later.

Ms Green is said to be "deeply saddened" that Ms Wood views her charity donation as a way to "salve her conscience".

On hearing of the condemnation, Ms Green's spokesman said: "She is deeply saddened that Ms Wood feels like this".

It is believed that Ms Green, who is currently abroad, has offered to travel to meet the family in the next week.

It is suggested that, amid the tension, that attempts at ongoing contact have been made through lawyers.

Ms Green did not tell the family of her bonus but it is believed an effort was made to to alert the family of the offer of the donation before it became public.

Ms Green's spokesman added that "the communication from us definitely happened".

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