November 3: Thomas Cook put money first

Firm’s safety shortcomings

THE report into Thomas Cook’s health and safety practices following the deaths of two West Yorkshire children does not pull any punches. The review, carried out by former Sainsbury’s chief Justin King, found that the travel firm was more concerned about money than with protecting its own customers.

Bobby and Christi Shepherd died while on holiday in Corfu with their parents in October 2006. The siblings, aged just six and seven, were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes from a faulty boiler at a hotel on the Greek holiday island.

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Their tragic deaths were every parent’s worst nightmare, but Thomas Cook’s handling of the situation was disastrous and an inquest into the children’s deaths earlier this year found the tour operator had “breached their duty of care”, and that they had been unlawfully killed. Rather than helping to alleviate the suffering of Bobby and Christi’s devastated parents, they only compounded it.

In his report, Mr King found that parts of the business put financial concerns above customers’ needs. Not only that, but he also said rather than doing whatever it could to improve the situation, the firm’s approach was more along the lines of “what’s the minimum we can do to solve the problem?”

It has taken the company nine years to correct past mistakes but Peter Fankhauser, chief executive of Thomas Cook, has met with the family several times since the conclusion of the inquest into their deaths. These meetings have at least left a positive legacy with the creation of a new charity, The Safer Tourism Foundation, to raise awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide.

But this is not just about Thomas Cook, every company chief executive ought to read Justin King’s report. That way important lessons may be learned and lives saved.

Children’s Home Closed

Serious safeguarding concerns

THE fact that Rotherham Council has closed one of its children’s homes after a damning inspection found serious safeguarding failures, raises major concerns.

Last year, a report by Professor Alexis Jay laid bare the scale of abuse of more than 1,400 children in Rotherham. It put the town’s council at the centre of a child exploitation scandal that shocked the whole country.

Despite the furore surrounding the undetected abuse of so many children in Rotherham, a recent inspection by Ofsted 
found that vulnerable youngsters at the Woodview home, run by the local council, were “not kept safe”. Inspectors raised a number of concerns about the home, warning that risks of young people exposed to child sexual exploitation are “not always recognised” and that they were poorly assessed and reviewed.

This damning assessment was made last month and the council closed the home two weeks ago in the wake of the inspections findings. The council’s Safeguarding Director said the council fully accepted Ofsted’s finding and said it was already planning to close the home before the inspection took place.

However, it is hard to believe after everything that has happened and the damaging publicity this scandal has brought to the town, that better safeguards were not in place. David Greenwood, a solicitor representing more than 60 abuse victims, said it was staggering that children had been put at risk in this way.

The council was right to have closed the home, but it must now focus on ensuring that vulnerable youngsters in its care are better protected.

Our great park life

Are green spaces under threat?

WE have all made use of our great public parks at some time or another and here in Yorkshire we have no shortage of glorious green spaces.

But for how much longer? One in seven people in Yorkshire say that their local park or green space is under threat of being lost, or built on, or have been in the past.

The findings are part of a survey conducted by the charity Fields in Trust. Nearly all of those who took part in the Yorkshire survey said that parks and play areas should be protected from development, with 86 per cent saying they would campaign against losing a local park.

It is reassuring to know that so many people feel passionately about their local parks but they are about more than mere surveys and statistics. It is our duty to ensure we have a green and pleasant land to bequeath to the next generation. Parks are not only good for our physical and mental health, they make us better human beings, something you cannot put a price on.