Yorkshire holiday children were unlawfully killed - Coroner

A JURY in the inquests into the deaths of two West Yorkshire children who died of carbon monoxide poisoning during a holiday on the Greek island of Corfu has been told by a coroner the only conclusion it can come to is unlawful killing.

Christianne Shepherd and Bobby Shepherd
Christianne Shepherd and Bobby Shepherd

A two-week long hearing in Wakefield has heard how Bobby and Christi Shepherd, aged six and seven, died at the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel when they were overcome by fumes from a faulty boiler.

The children, from Horbury, near Wakefield, were on a half-term break with their father, Neil, and his partner, now wife, Ruth, when the tragedy happened in October 2006.

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Summing-up the case to the jury today, West Yorkshire Coroner David Hinchliff said the only conclusion it can come to “would be a conclusion of unlawful killing”.

Neil Shepherd

The coroner sent the jury out to consider its conclusions with instructions on how to fill out a form detailing how and why the children died.

He said to the jury just before it retired: “This has been a complex, difficult and sometimes harrowing exercise. But you have to make your determination based on the evidence that you’ve heard and not on any feelings of sympathy and empathy with the family.”

The children were found dead in a bungalow in the grounds of the hotel by a chambermaid. Mr and Mrs Shepherd were found in comas but later recovered.

The jury heard how Christi and Bobby had felt ill the day before and, at bedtime, the adults were also not feeling well.

Parents Sharon Wood and Neil Shepherd

Mr and Mrs Shepherd went into the children’s bedroom to help them but do not remember anything else until they woke in hospital.

The jury has heard that Bobby and Christi were poisoned by carbon monoxide from a faulty hot water boiler housed in an outbuilding.

There were a series of faults in the rusting boiler, including a failure to fit a flue, a water leak which meant it was over-working, a crucial safety device that had been short-circuited and holes left in the walls between the outbuilding and the bedroom when air conditioning pipes had been installed.

The coroner called this final error a “bodged and botched” job.

A couple who stayed in the bungalow immediately before the Shepherds also became ill, the inquest heard.

They were taken to hospital but not diagnosed at the time with carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Shepherds had booked the £2,000 holiday with Thomas Cook and a series of former employees of the firm went into the witness box and exercised their legal right not to answer questions.

This included the chief executive of the holiday firm at the time of the tragedy, Manny Fontenla-Novoa.

Asked whether the firm put “profit before safety”, Mr Fontenla-Novoa refused to answer.

But the current chief executive, Peter Fankhauser said: “I feel so thoroughly, from the deepest of my heart, sorry but there’s no need to apologise because there was no wrongdoing by Thomas Cook.”

Mr Fankhauser said the right checks were not carried out because the hotel lied to Thomas Cook about there being no gas fuelled water heaters at the complex.

He said the company representatives undertook safety checks based on this misinformation.

Another former Thomas Cook employee who exercised her right not to answer questions which could be self-incriminatory was Nicola Jordison, who was called Nicola Gibson at the time of the tragedy.

Holiday rep Ms Jordison and customer affairs executive Richard Carson were both put on trial by the Greek authorities charged with manslaughter by negligence in relation to the children and causing bodily injury by negligence to Mr and Mrs Shepherd. Both were cleared by three judges in 2010.

A number of Greek people were also charged and three were convicted, the jury has been told.