Parents of holiday tragedy kids plead for financial help at inquest

Paul Wood and Sharon Wood, the childrens mum; and Ruth Beatson and Neil Shepherd, their father
Paul Wood and Sharon Wood, the childrens mum; and Ruth Beatson and Neil Shepherd, their father
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THE parents of two young children from Yorkshire who died from carbon monoxide poisoning while on holiday in Greece have called on the Government to help fund their representation at an upcoming inquest after being refused legal aid.

Neil Shepherd and Sharon Wood’s children, Christianne, seven, and six-year-old Robert, from Horbury, near Wakefield, died on a family holiday in Corfu in 2006 after a gas boiler at the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel malfunctioned, pumping the deadly gas into their room.

A coroner yesterday ruled against holiday company Thomas Cook who argued an inquest was unnecessary as there had already been legal proceedings in Greece.

But after coroner David Hinchliff ruled the inquest must go ahead the parents revealed they had been refused financial support to pay for legal representation during the inquest, which is due to take place in January.

Speaking after the hearing in Wakefield the children’s mother, Sharon Wood, said crippling legal costs would be a “burden” and urged the Government to help.

“The coroner has today ruled that he will conduct a full and fearless investigation in the presence of a jury, in spite of Thomas Cook today asking for the inquest to be closed,” she said.

“Seven years ago our lives were torn to pieces when our two beautiful children died from carbon monoxide poisoning in Greece.

“This coroner’s court is the only place where the full facts of Christi and Bobby’s case will be heard in the UK, yet the legal aid agency have refused our request for funding to be legally represented.

“Today Thomas cook tried to halt the inquest in to our children’s deaths and deny us our chance to have the full facts dealt with in a British court.

“Our need for legal representation is now urgent. We call on the government to help us and ensure that as grieving parents we are not left alone to represent ourselves.

“We believe there is an exceptional and overwhelming public interest with lessons of our tragedy to be learnt so that no other family suffer as we have.

“It is a financial burden on us but it’s something we strongly feel we shouldn’t have to do.

“It’s not going to bring our children back but it might stop the travel industry being self regulated and that’s why we carry on fighting in the names of Christi and Bobby.”

Neil Shepherd and his partner, Ruth Beatson, were also in the hotel bungalow during the tragic incident and were left in a coma, but survived.

Holiday reps Richard Carson and Nicola Gibson were found not guilty of manslaughter by negligence in 2010.

But hotel manager Georgios Chrysikopoulos, the head of the hotel technical department, Petros Stoyiannos, and the hotel electrician, Christos Louvros, were each sentenced to seven years in prison.

Civil engineer Dimitrios Xidias was given two years on probation.

Mary Creagh, MP for Wakefield, said: “What sort of country is it where we allow parents in their position to fight big businesses on their own?

“I think it is clear that they (Thomas Cook) are reluctant to hear the full facts.

“I think they and the entire holiday and travel industry have to constantly be vigilant and make sure that no other family experiences this awful tragedy that Sharon and Neil have experienced,” she added.

Tour operator Thomas Cook was cleared of responsibilty in relation to the deaths and awarded £1m in damages by the High Court last year.

The hotel owner, Louis Hotels S.A., had previously agreed to pay substantial damages to the children’s family.

It was also ordered to pay at least £1m to two members of the Thomas Cook group to cover costs and losses. Louis Hotels S.A. had claimed that Thomas Cook group member Tourmajor Limited was 
partly at fault by not ensuring the room was inspected properly.

But Mrs Justice Swift said they stood no chance of defending a damages claim by Tourmajor and Thomas Cook Tour Operations Ltd.