THE mother of two children who died of carbon monoxide poisoning while on holiday in Corfu said today: “I will always hold Thomas Cook responsible for their deaths.”
Sharon Wood spoke out after an inquest jury concluded that the tour operator “breached their duty of care” over the deaths of Bobby and Christi Shepherd, aged six and seven.
Speaking at the end of a two- week inquest hearing, the family’s lawyer Leslie Thomas QC said Thomas Cook should “hang its head in shame”.
Bobby and Christi died at the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel on the Greek holiday island when they were overcome by fumes from a faulty boiler.
The jurors at Wakefield Coroner’s Court had already been told by West Yorkshire Coroner David Hinchliff that the only conclusion they could come to was unlawful killing.
Mr Hinchliff said he would be making a series a recommendations to the holiday industry following the inquest.
Thomas Cook said they offered our family practical and financial support. This is simply not true.Sharon Wood
In an emotional statement outside the court, Mrs Wood paid tribute to her “beautiful angels”.
She said: “For everyone whose lives Christi and Bobby touched, I am hugely relieved that our fight for justice is over. We asked for lessons to be learned from our children’s deaths; it will now fall to the coroner’s recommendations to force Thomas Cook to act more responsibly in future.
“Thomas Cook said they offered our family practical and financial support. This is simply not true. Whilst we appreciate there were criminal convictions in Corfu, it is clear that Thomas Cook could and should have identified that lethal boiler.
“Thomas Cook put Christi and Bobby in that bungalow and I will always hold Thomas Cook responsible for their deaths.
“I would also like to say that there can never be true justice for the deaths of my two innocent children, their whole lives ahead of them.
“But as a family we feel that our legal team, the coroner, the jury and our MP Mary Creagh have done Christi and Bobby proud, and brought the tragedy finally to a respectful conclusion. Rest in peace now, our beautiful angels.”
The father of the two children, Neil Shepherd, and his partner, Ruth Beatson, fell into comas and were close to death after also suffering carbon monoxide poisoning in the apartment.
He accused Thomas Cook of failing his family and refusing to answer questions about the tragedy for nearly a decade.
He said: “From start to finish, Thomas Cook have hidden behind a wall of silence and they have refused to answer any questions for almost nine years.
“Thomas Cook are not blameless; we are disappointed they have refused to apologise to us.
“What is the point of a health and safety policy if it’s not followed? What is the point in health and safety orders if they are not carried out by qualified and vigilant staff?
“Thomas Cook failed our family. That boiler room should have been checked. Ruth and I nearly died in that bungalow.
“The bottom line is, had Thomas Cook followed its own policy, Christi and Bobby would be alive today.”
A Thomas Cook spokeswoman said: “Everyone at Thomas Cook was shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Robert and Christianne Shepherd in 2006. Thomas Cook recognises that the pain caused by this terrible accident will never go away and must be still very hard for friends and family to bear.
“The Greek authorities launched a thorough criminal investigation in 2010 which found three of the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel employees guilty of manslaughter; that investigation cleared Thomas Cook’s employees of any wrong doing. The Coroner had directed the jury that the only conclusion to reach was unlawful killing as legally it had to be consistent with the Greek verdicts.
“The systems which were in place in 2006, which were intended to prevent such a tragedy, have since been thoroughly revised and address the criticisms made by the jury.
“Thomas Cook works with dedicated specialist external health and safety experts to audit holiday properties. The health and safety of our customers is of paramount importance and we continuously review and strive to improve all our procedures.”