Sunday 24 September 2017

Families of beach attack victims to sue travel agents

A man prays after laying flowers on Marhaba beach where 38 people were killed on Friday in a terrorist attack in Souuse, Tunisia
A man prays after laying flowers on Marhaba beach where 38 people were killed on Friday in a terrorist attack in Souuse, Tunisia
Seifeddine Rezgui slaughtered a total of 38 people, including three Irish citizens, during the attack in Sousse

David Wilcock in London

Grieving relatives of tourists killed in the 2015 Tunisia terror attack are preparing to sue travel firm TUI over the deaths of their loved ones at the hands of an Islamic extremist.

Lawyers said they planned civil proceedings against the tour operator after the coroner conducting the inquests of the 30 Britons murdered on the Mediterranean coast in Sousse ruled they were unlawfully killed.

However, Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith ruled against a finding of "neglect" by Thomson owner TUI, or the owners of the Riu Imperial Marhaba where radicalised mass-killer Seifeddine Rezgui slaughtered a total of 38 people, including three Irish citizens.

The families of the dead, many of whom wept as the inquests' conclusions were read out yesterday, were highly critical of security at the hotel, which only had a handful of unarmed guards on duty when Rezgui struck, armed with an AK-47 assault rifle and home-made grenades.

They also believed that TUI did not do enough to warn holidaymakers before they booked about the dangers in Tunisia, which had suffered a fatal terrorist attack in the capital Tunis just three months earlier.

This included making them aware of official Foreign Office travel advice which warned of a high threat of terrorism.

Seifeddine Rezgui slaughtered a total of 38 people, including three Irish citizens, during the attack in Sousse
Seifeddine Rezgui slaughtered a total of 38 people, including three Irish citizens, during the attack in Sousse

Kylie Hutchison, from law firm Irwin Mitchell, which represents 22 victims' families, said they had heard "shocking evidence about the level of security precautions at the Imperial Marhaba Hotel at the time of the terrorist attack".

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London after the inquests finished, she said: "It is now crucial that the whole travel industry learns from what happened in Sousse to reduce the risk of similar catastrophic incidents in the future.

"On behalf of our clients who lost members of their family and those who suffered injuries in this terrible incident, we will now be preparing to commence civil proceedings against TUI."

The inquest had heard from a holidaymaker who said his wife raised the March 2015 attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunis with a travel agent, and said they had been told it was a "one-off" and that Sousse was "100pc safe".

A Thomson travel agent previously told the inquest she did not give a safety guarantee to the couple, and that she would not say somewhere is completely safe.

Rezgui, who had been radicalised just 18 months before the June 26 attack, killed holidaymakers on the hotel's private beach before walking through an unlocked gate into the grounds and the main building to continue the slaughter.

Read more: 'Two years on, it's still very raw'

Earlier Judge Loraine-Smith said that the law limited the circumstances in which he could rule "neglect" played a part in a death, which applied only in cases were someone had a duty of care towards someone because of their "youth, age, illness or incarceration".

He added: "That does not cover, it seems to me, tourists who have voluntarily agreed to go on holiday abroad."

The judge said although in general the response of the hotel staff was "disorganised and chaotic" some displayed "conspicuous personal courage" in their efforts to protect the guests.

He added: "The simple but tragic truth in this case is that a gunman armed with a gun and grenades went to that hotel intending to kill as many tourists as he could."

Summing up the evidence heard during the inquest, Judge Loraine-Smith referred to the response of police and military, who were criticised for deliberately stalling their arrival to avoid tackling Rezgui.

He said the local police "most certainly" were responsible for tourist security, and said: "Their response could and should have been effective."

He added: "The response by the police was at best shambolic, at worst cowardly."

Nick Longman, the managing director of TUI UK, said the attack had "shocked and devastated all of us".

Speaking to reporters outside court he said: "We are so very sorry for the pain and loss those affected have suffered.

"On that day the world changed. As an industry we have adapted and we will need to continue to do so. This terrorist incident has left its mark on all of us and its impact will always be remembered."

Irish Independent

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