At last - Thomas Cook boss promises apology over children’s deaths

Christianne Shepherd and Bobby Shepherd
Christianne Shepherd and Bobby Shepherd
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THE boss of Thomas Cook has said he is “deeply sorry” over the deaths of two young children killed by carbon monoxide poisoning in Corfu and apologised for the company’s handling of the incident.

Peter Fankhauser, chief executive of the travel firm which is facing a public backlash over the way it has treated the family since the tragedy, told the Financial Times: “Look, I’m deeply sorry about the deaths of these two children.

Neil Shepherd

Neil Shepherd

“As a father I really can only express my deepest sorrow.”

He added: “It is also clear to me that in the past nine years the company could have handled its relationship with the family better and treated them with more respect and for that I am sorry.”

He pledged to apologise directly to the family of Bobby and Christi Shepherd, 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 the firm received around £3 million compensation from the hotel chain responsible for the incident and following criticisms from the family.

Parents Sharon Wood and Neil Shepherd

Parents Sharon Wood and Neil Shepherd

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

But the 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 said Thomas Cook ‘’breached their duty of care’’.

Following the inquest, the family blasted the group 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.

Speaking after the release of Thomas Cook’s half-year results, Mr Fankhauser told the FT: “What I do not want now is that somehow we continue to talk via the media to the family. I do not want to repeat that mistake. I would like to get in direct contact with the family and not talk via the media with them.”

“We have to fix it, we have to come out this time and I can really just express my deepest sorrow and we will try to do everything to help them move on with their lives. Leave it to me, I am committed to fix it.”

The 174-year-old company’s figures revealed 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 its summer programme was 62% sold to date - up 2 points on a year earlier.

Mr Fankhauser told the FT bookings had not been affected by the image crisis 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 Bobby and Christi 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.

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The Yorkshire Post’s coverage of the tragedy