Friday 21 July 2017

Widow of Tunisia attack victim 'played dead' after being shot by beach gunman

A tourist examines flowers left in tribute at the scene of the Isil massacre of holidaymakers, three of them Irish, in Sousse, Tunisia last year
A tourist examines flowers left in tribute at the scene of the Isil massacre of holidaymakers, three of them Irish, in Sousse, Tunisia last year
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

The widow of a man killed in the Tunisia terror attack has described how she "played dead" after they were both gunned down as they relaxed on a 30th wedding anniversary holiday.

Allison and Philip Heathcote had only arrived in the Mediterranean resort of Sousse the day before gunman Seifeddine Rezgui killed 38 tourists at the five-star Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel on June 26 2015.

Mrs Heathcote said she lay still on the sand after being shot five times by Rezgui as she and Philip (53) relaxed on sunbeds, in a statement read to the inquest at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

Describing how she experienced "pure fear" she said that, as she lay wounded, the killer walked away, before she then heard the gunshots getting closer again.

She said: "I was fearing for my life. I stayed laying on the sand, trying not to move and draw attention to the fact that I was still alive.

"I decided my best chance of survival was to play dead."

She added: "At the first opportunity I was asking Philip if he was all right. There was no response from Philip and I realised he had not made it."

Mrs Heathcote, then 48, who lived with her husband in Felixstowe, Suffolk, was shot in the arm and abdomen and spent a month in an induced coma, the inquest heard.

In her statement she said she experienced a "stinging pain" after being shot in the arm. But she had not initially realised how badly she had been hurt, putting it down to the fear and adrenaline.

The hearing was told that the couple, who have a 27-year-old son James, had become engaged six weeks after meeting in 1985.

Mr Heathcote, who worked as a traffic operator for Goldstar Transport, was a keen rugby and cricket player in his youth and had continued as a cricket coach for local children in Suffolk, as well as a league umpire.

He also loved to watch his son play sports and talk about the games he had played in.

Originally from Manchester, Mr Heathcote was also a lifelong Manchester United fan, the inquest heard.

Mr Heathcote died from gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen, the inquest heard.

Fellow holidaymaker, retired Leicestershire Police chief superintendent Michael Perry, who was on a nearby sunbed, said he saw Rezgui on the beach brandishing a "military type of assault rifle".

Mr Perry, whose 30-year career included firearms training, said Rezgui seemed to be firing in "a rather uncontrolled manner", suggesting he had the gun in automatic mode, where one squeeze of the trigger would result in a hail of bullets but made aiming harder.

The Briton described "a lot of hysteria, panic, running around" as the attack unfolded, adding that the hotel's handful of unarmed security guards would not have been able to stop what happened.

Mr Perry, who was on holiday with his wife Angela, said the men seemed mostly there to stop people getting into the all-inclusive hotel without the correct wristbands, adding: "I wouldn't have called them guards."

Raymond and Angela Fisher were slaughtered by Rezgui just months before they were due to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary, the inquest heard.

Known as Ray and Angie, the Leicester couple's funeral was later held at the same church in the city where they had married in September 1965, their daughter, Donna Bradley, told the inquest.

Their first grandchild, a son nicknamed "Little Fish", was born to their son, Adam, and his wife two days before the inquest began last week, Mrs Bradley added.

She continued: "It's so sad that Ray and Angie were not able to meet and cuddle Little Fish."

An eyewitness said he saw Mr Fisher (750 a retired former engineer and caretaker who loved wildlife and bred koi carp, shot twice by Rezgui from a range of about three yards as he sat on a sunlounger.

In a statement read to the inquest, holidaymaker Alan Foster, who was sitting nearby, said: "He (the gunman) was holding the gun (at) hip level when he shot the man."

Mrs Fisher, a retired bank manager and hairdresser, was shot five times, including in the head and neck, a post-mortem examination revealed.

A former British soldier who saw the Fishers on the beach told how he later walked past the gunman after mistaking him for a security guard.

Keith Hawkes, who served with the Gurkhas during a 22-year career, said he saw Rezgui with an AK-47 assault rifle and narrowly avoided being shot himself.

In a statement read to the inquest, he described how, after getting his wife Marilyn back to their upstairs room, he went back to the pool area and "ran past the gunman on his left-hand side, two feet from him".

The shooter was engrossed in his mobile phone, he added, and he was able to get behind a wall with a fellow tourist called Paul and a second man who was wounded.

Mr Hawkes wrote: "Paul said to me 'Get the f*** down, it's the gunman.'

"I said 'Shit - I thought he was security'."

The ex-serviceman described security officers who arrived as "a mess", saying: "They looked like anyone off the street, they didn't have any uniforms and one guy must have been 20 stone."

The inquest has previously heard criticism of local law enforcement, who were accused in a Tunisian investigation into the mass killing of deliberately delaying their arrival at the scene to confront Rezgui.

The widower of victim Claire Windass told the inquest he was desperately trying to pull her to safety when she was killed on the beach.

Jim Windass described what happened when the 54-year-old care worker from Hull was shot in the neck on what was his 65th birthday.

Giving emotional evidence in person, he described the Lincolnshire-born mother-of-two's last moments after Rezgui had opened fire on holidaymakers and people started screaming.

Mr Windass, who is now 66, said: "It was difficult to walk on the sand, let alone run. Claire was not a runner so I dragged (her) off the sunbed.

"Sometime between that action and hitting the sand the bullets struck, so Claire knew nothing about it.

"I was then on my hands and knees over Claire when this guy walked in front of me.

"He came back around me and fired a couple of shots at the couple to my left, turned around and fired shots the other way and then turned around towards me but did nothing. Then he carried on into the hotel grounds.

"I'm not medical but it was clear that something had happened (to Claire). There was no pulse. I closed her eyes."

He said that after Rezgui came back to the beach he dived into the sea to evade him and was later picked up by a boat.

He said he had been aware of the terror attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis the previous March when he booked the holiday in May 2015.

But asked by counsel to the inquest Samantha Leek QC what information he received about the security situation in Tunisia or the Foreign Office travel advice when booking the holiday at a Thomson shop, he said "none whatsoever".

Under cross-examination by Andrew Richie QC, who represents some of the victims' families, he added: "If someone had told me 'there is a possible terrorist situation there' I would not have booked, end of story."

Howard Stevens QC, representing Thomson's owner TUI, showed Mr Windass pages from two documents sent to the couple after they booked, which contained links to travel advice pages on the Foreign Office website.

Mr Windass told the lawyer: "Because we had already been (to the Riu Imperial Marhaba) twice before and no one had mentioned anything untoward, we booked it again."

The inquest continues.

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