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Tunisia holiday firms 'did not want to scare tourists with army of police'

Tour operators wanted to increase security in Sousse before 38 people were killed in a terrorist attack but did not want holidaymakers to be "scared by seeing an army of police", an inquest has heard.

The hearing into the deaths of 30 Britons in the Tunisian resort in June 2015 was told that in a meeting a month before the attack there was a discussion about police security and how it could make tourists feel "uncomfortable".

Venancio Lopez, managing director of Tunisie Voyages - a subsidiary of travel company TUI - flew to London to give evidence in the inquests at the Royal Courts of Justice.

He said he was at a meeting with British Embassy officials on May 25 2015 in Tunis - two months after the terror attack at the Bardo National Museum and one month before the Sousse atrocity.

The inquest heard Mr Lopez had a list of points he wanted the British Embassy to raise with Tunisian authorities, including the matter of police security.

Security in the resorts, and how visible it should be, was discussed and Mr Lopez said: "If security is too evident, they feel uncomfortable in the street."

In his statement to the inquest, he said: "We wanted to increase the security in general but we didn't want tourists to be scared by seeing an army of police."

The inquest heard it was decided that hotels should have metal detectors, staff should monitor CCTV, police should patrol the beaches and there would be an extra 400 officers.

Extremist Seifeddine Rezgui massacred tourists - including three Irish citizens - on June 26 at the five-star Riu Imperial Marhaba hotel.

Andrew Ritchie QC, representing victims' families, asked Mr Lopez why TUI UK sent him to meetings about security, suggesting to him he was sent because he was the only person there.

Mr Ritchie also asked the witness: "At any time between the end of March and the 26th of June were you asked by TUI UK to go round the Imperial Marhaba hotel to see if improvements had been made in security?"

He said: "No."

The inquest heard that out of nine hotels, the Imperial Marhaba had the fewest cameras, with six in total, while other hotels had up to 49.

Responding to a question about checking security at hotels, Paul Summerell, area manager in charge of service delivery for TUI Destination Services, said: "I think we would have had repercussions from the hotels. I don't think the hotels would have allowed us to do that."

He said the hotels did not see him or his staff's function as being security-related.

Asked about the increase in security that hotels were expected to make following the Bardo attack, he said: "The way I know how Tunisia worked, it would have had to have come from the authorities to change some things."

Mr Ritchie put it to Mr Summerell that it was not in his role to deal with these matters, pointing out that nobody was saying to him "Paul, go out there and do the proactive stuff and increase the security", to which he replied: "That's correct."

Mr Ritchie asked Mr Summerell what he would have said if he had known there were no CCTV cameras on the beach gates at the hotel.

"This has to be done through the authorities first. I know if I went to a hotel with this instruction they would have said 'No, you're not allowed to do that'," he said.

He said "control" is a "good word" in relation to how things worked in Tunisia.

Mr Ritchie also told the inquest about a letter - which he said was written about in a French news article - allegedly sent by the minister of tourism to all hotels telling them to improve the security.

Later, a witness statement from Camilla Bekkevold, resort team manager of TUI UK, was read to the inquest.

Ms Bekkevold said one of the main problems was identifying victims.

"Most people were in swimwear and were not carrying any papers or documents," she said, adding it was a particular problem if a couple had been killed or injured because there was nobody else there asking for them.

"Cleaning ladies reported to us what rooms were not touched. This is how we started to identify some of the people," she said.

The inquest continues.


From Belfast Telegraph