| 8.1°C Belfast

Beach victims returned to home soil


The coffin of Charles Evans is taken from the RAF C-17 carrying the bodies of eight British nationals killed in the Tunisia terror attack at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire

The coffin of Charles Evans is taken from the RAF C-17 carrying the bodies of eight British nationals killed in the Tunisia terror attack at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire

The coffin of Charles Evans is taken from the RAF C-17 carrying the bodies of eight British nationals killed in the Tunisia terror attack at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire

T he bodies of nine victims of the Tunisian beach massacre have been returned to the UK, as the final British death toll was confirmed at 30.

The coffins carrying the remains of Lisa and William Graham, Philip Heathcote, Trudy Jones, Ann and James McQuire, Janet and John Stocker, and David Thompson were loaded into hearses in a sombre ceremony at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

Military personnel unloaded the coffins, which were topped with floral arrangements, and slowly carried them from the RAF C-17 transport plane used to bring them back from Tunisia into the waiting hearses.

The task, performed by members of the RAF Regiment's Queen's Colour Squadron, was witnessed by relatives of the dead who were present at the airbase.

Eight Britons killed in the terror attack were brought back to British soil yesterday, and further flights are expected tomorrow and on Saturday.

British nationals made up the majority of the 38 killed by gunman Seifeddine Rezgui when he opened fire on holidaymakers on a beach in the resort of Sousse on Friday - along with three Irish nationals, two Germans, one Belgian, one Portuguese and one Russian.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: "We now have all 30 British victims positively identified and we can say with a high degree of confidence that is now the final death toll of British nationals killed in this incident."

Holiday operators Thomson and First Choice confirmed the 30 Britons killed in the massacre in Sousse were their customers.

As the hunt continued for accomplices believed to have helped Rezgui carry out the atrocity, the Tunisian government said it had made a number of arrests in relation to the attack.

Eight people - seven men and one woman - were in custody, suspected of having direct links to the massacre, but four others had been released, government minister Kamel Jendoubi said.

He said the investigation "has allowed us to discover the network behind the operation in Sousse".

According to Tunisian officials, the gunman trained at a Libyan jihadist camp at the same time as the two gunmen who attacked the Bardo museum in Tunis in March, killing 22 people.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon vowed that those responsible for the massacre would be "tracked down".

Mr Fallon told the House of Commons: "We are working with the Tunisian authorities to find out exactly how this outrage last Friday was carried out, how it was planned, who was involved in it.

"Let the House be in absolutely no doubt, the people who perpetrated the murders of our constituents are going to be tracked down, whether they are in Libya, in Syria or anywhere else."

Mr McQuire, 67, and his wife, 64, were from Cumbernauld in North Lanarkshire, where vicar Joyce Keyes described them as a "kind and gentle couple". Mr and Mrs Graham from Bankfoot, near Perth, were visiting Tunisia to celebrate Mrs Graham's 50th birthday.

Mr Heathcote, 52, from Felixstowe, Suffolk, was celebrating his 30th wedding anniversary with wife Allison, 48, who was seriously injured in the attack and has been flown back to Britain by the RAF for treatment.

Ms Jones, of Blackwood in Gwent, south Wales, was described by her family as "our beautiful mother". She was a 51-year-old divorced single mother-of-four and had been on holiday with her friends.

Mr Stocker, 74, was a retired printer, born and bred in Peckham, south-east London, and was a father of five children and had 10 grandchildren, while Mrs Stocker, 63, was born and raised with her two brothers in Fulham, south-west London.

Mr Thompson, 80, from Tadley, Hampshire, was a retired scientist at the Atomic Weapons Establishment.

Wounded Britons - including four with severe injuries - have already been brought back to the UK for treatment at hospitals in Birmingham, Oxford, Plymouth and London.

A minute's silence in memory of the victims will be observed at noon tomorrow - a week after the outrage - and flags will be flown at half-mast over Whitehall departments and Buckingham Palace. Whitehall officials were meeting this afternoon to consider the continuing UK response to the attack.

Those repatriated yesterday included the youngest known victim, Joel Richards, 19, with his uncle Adrian Evans and his grandfather Patrick Evans; fashion blogger Carly Lovett, 24, from Gainsborough, Lincolnshire; Stephen Mellor, 59, from Bodmin in Cornwall; John Stollery, 58, a social worker from Nottinghamshire; former Birmingham City football player Denis Thwaites, 70, and his wife Elaine, 69.

The other British victims include: John Welch, 74, and his partner Eileen Swannack, from Wiltshire; Christopher and Sharon Bell, from Leeds; Chris Dyer, from Watford; Lisa Burbidge, from Gateshead; Sue Davey from Staffordshire; Scott Chalkley from Derby; Claire Windass from Hull; Bruce Wilkinson, 72, from Goole, East Yorkshire; and Stuart Cullen, 52, from Suffolk.

The Irish victims were Lorna Carty, from Robinstown, Co Meath, and Laurence and Martina Hayes, both in their 50s, from Athlone in Co Westmeath.

The first inquests in to the deaths of the Britons killed in the Sousse terror attack are set to open tomorrow.

Coroner Chinyere Inyama, sitting at West London Coroners Court, is expected to open and adjourn the hearings in which a headline cause of death will be confirmed and the bodies will be released.

The Metropolitan Police said 76 family liaison officers across the country are supporting the families of those killed and the survivors while hundreds of counter terrorism officers were helping the international response to the attack.

Specialist advisers have also been deployed to Tunisia by the National Policing Counter Terrorism Headquarters to assist the Foreign Office and Tunisian authorities in reviewing security at other tourist resorts and attractions.

Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the national policing lead for counter terrorism, said: "People across the country will no doubt have been deeply affected by the appalling events in Tunisia last week. Our thoughts and sympathies are with the families of those who were killed as well as the survivors at this very difficult time.

"I would like to use this opportunity to appeal to anyone who was in Sousse and witnessed the attack to contact us on 0800 789 321 to help with the investigation, if they haven't done so already. We have also set up a dedicated email addresses for people to send any images and information that may assist."

He added: "With the threat level to the UK from international terrorism remaining at severe, the UK police service is continually reviewing security to help ensure people and places are as safe as possible.

"As always we advise the public to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious behaviour or activity to the confidential anti-terrorist hotline on 0800 789 321 or in an emergency the public should always call 999."

People can send images to either www.ukpoliceimageappeal.com or www.ukpoliceimageappeal.co.uk and relevant information to tunisiaenquiry@met.police.uk