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Sunday 30 April 2017

Tunisia security slammed as 'shambolic and cowardly' as Irish terror victims remembered

Martina and Laurence Hayes
Martina and Laurence Hayes

Laura Lynott

The family of an Irish couple who died in the Islamist terror attack in Tunisia nearly two years ago are still struggling to come to terms with their loss.

Laurence Hayes (56), known as Larry or Lonnie to his friends, and his wife, Martina (55), from Co Westmeath, were among the 38 people killed by Islamic State gunman Seifeddine Rezgui.

A damning inquest into the events at the Imperial Marhaba Hotel in Sousse, on the Tunisian coast, branded security forces as "cowardly" and said they let down the victims of the attack.

Religious fanatic Rezgui killed holidaymakers with an AK-47 assault rifle and hand-made grenades in June 2015.

Military

Summing up after the six-week inquest at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith severely criticised the security forces, saying their response had been "at best shambolic and at worst cowardly".

He referred to the response of police and military, who were criticised for deliberately stalling their arrival to avoid tackling Rezgui, and said local police "most certainly" were responsible for tourist security.

An inquest by Tunisian authorities was also critical of the local security force's response.

Speaking after the inquest, Athlone Canon Liam Devine said the community's thoughts were with the Hayes family.

He said the couple's daughter, Sinead (31), who attended her parents' funeral on her birthday in July 2015, was still trying to deal with the tragedy.

"I don't know how they [the family] will greet the news of the inquest," he said. "It's just very, very sad and it's still very raw.

"You hear these things from other parts of world but then, when they happen on your doorstep, it's hard to take in.

"We are all still reeling from the loss of Larry and Martina, so we try, as a community, to support the family as best we can."

Shortly before they were killed, the couple had moved to a new home in West Lodge, an estate in Athlone.

"I believe Sinead is living in the house now," said Fr Devine, who described the family as "loving people".

While the judge hit out at the security forces, he praised the "conspicuous courage" of some of the hotel staff and guests.

He said neither the tour operator nor the hotel had been neglectful in the unlawful killings. Many of the victims had booked their trips through Thomson Holidays, which is owned by TUI Group.

The families of the British victims have been critical of TUI for not highlighting government warnings about travel to Tunisia prior to the attack.

They have also criticised TUI for not making it easier to cancel trips after an earlier attack in Tunis.

A lawyer for the victims' families said they would begin civil proceedings against TUI.

"It is crucial that the whole travel industry learns from what happened in Sousse to reduce the risk of similar catastrophic incidents in the future," said Clive Garner, of Irwin Mitchell, which represents 22 of the families.

The attack in Sousse took place three months after an attack on a museum in Tunis, 140km to the north.

Concerned

The judge said TUI did not update its website after the Tunis attack and its phone operators did not direct concerned customers to the UK government's travel advice for Tunisia in the wake of the museum shooting.

TUI said in a statement "steps to raise awareness" of the government's travel advice had subsequently been taken.

While critical of security at the Tunisian hotel, the judge said the case did not meet the requirements for a finding of "neglect".

In Britain, a coroner's inquest establishes the facts of an incident but does not assign legal blame or guilt.

Herald

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