Mary Creagh: A family’s fight to spare others from Corfu holiday heartbreak

CHRISTI and Bobby Shepherd are known to everyone in this country, their faces familiar from the Horbury School photograph. Big sister Christi in plaits, with her little brother Bobby smiling at the school photographer; one of millions of school pictures treasured by parents, grandparents, family and friends.

This photo is extra special. It is different because those children will have no more photos – no weddings, no 18th or 21st birthdays, no more laughter, no more tears. They have never met their four younger brothers and their little sister. Christi and Bobby are dead. That school photo has become a symbol – a symbol of their parents’ long, difficult and arduous fight for justice. It has become a symbol too of the cold-hearted indifference of Thomas Cook, and of this Government, to ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

From Horbury near Wakefield, they were just seven and six-years-old when they died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty boiler on a Thomas Cook holiday in Corfu in 2006.

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It is important to put these facts on the public record so that we do not forget those children. Bobby and Christi should not have died and the family should not have had to fight so long and so hard for justice. The travel industry and the Government must learn from their mistakes because tourism is responsible for around nine per cent of total GDP in the EU and over nine million jobs. Consumer confidence is vital to the success of that industry.

As millions of British families get ready for their summer holidays, they want to know that they will all come home safely. In November last year, the European Commission launched a Green Paper on the safety of tourism accommodation services. ABTA’s (Association of British Travel Agents) submission to that Green Paper quotes Eurostat figures that six per cent of European citizens experienced some form of safety issue on holiday. That equates to over 52 million tourists.

ABTA commissioned work from John Gregory, a Corgi gas safety expert. He condemns “a lack of legislative consistency throughout Europe”, and the fact that there is “no Europe-wide statistical database providing data on serious incidents caused by carbon monoxide poisoning”, which means that the extent of the problem is unknown owing to a lack of data, with each case presented as a tragic occurrence rather than as a systematic failure.

He notes that “the competence, training and knowledge of the operative undertaking servicing and maintenance of gas appliances across the European Union are of a lesser standard than that required in the UK”.

Contrast ABTA’s submission with that of the UK Government. Paragraph 27 of the Government’s submission says that “a European safety standard would impose an unnecessary cost on tourism businesses in England”.

Paragraph 42 states that “the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (then Sajid Javid who is now Business Secretary) has asked that we make clear in our response that… he felt it was not a good use of EU time”.

British families will be shocked to hear the former Secretary of State’s cavalier approach to their safety. The opposition of the Government and of other member states means progress on carbon monoxide safety has stalled.

That must change. The Government, too, have a duty of care to British citizens.

The Prime Minister should make the safety of British tourists a priority as he seeks to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU.

Nothing will bring back Bobby and Christi, but their parents’ dearest wish is to spare other families the heartbreak they have suffered.

I hope Ministers will commit the Government to push for better carbon monoxide safety standards across Europe and in the UK. I hope Thomas Cook will live up to its promise to improve carbon monoxide awareness.

No parent can imagine the feeling of losing one child on a holiday, let alone two children on the same night.

There is a photo missing from Sharon and Neil’s homes. It is the photo of Christi on her prom night, dressed up and having fun with her friends. She would have been 16 this year, waiting for her GCSE results and about to go to college for her A-levels. Another photo is missing. It is of Bobby. He should be studying for his GCSEs, hanging out with his friends and playing with his brothers and sisters. All that joy, all that future, all that hope and all that life have been stolen from them. Their parents have told me that they will never again have a perfect day.

The powers-that-be, whether in the Government and at Thomas Cook, should be in no doubt that I intend to use whatever power Parliament gives us to campaign for justice for Christi and Bobby and their parents. Theirs is a 
cause that cries out for change, for attention and for justice. We must see that they get it.

Mary Creagh is the Labour MP for Wakefield who spoke in a Commons adjournment debate. This is an edited version.