Tunisia beach attack: British families to sue TUI

Media captionTunisian hotel worker Ibrahim Elghoul says he tried to stop the gunman going to more hotels

Relatives of the British victims of the Tunisia terror attack will sue tour operator TUI, a lawyer representing many of the families has said.

The announcement was made after a coroner ruled the victims were “unlawfully killed” by a gunman at a hotel in Sousse in June 2015.

Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith ruled the police response was “at best shambolic and at worst cowardly”.

The 38 dead included 30 Britons. TUI has denied gross failure.

Judge Loraine-Smith rejected a finding of neglect against the tour firms and the hotel.

Kylie Hutchison, a solicitor for 22 of the families, said it was crucial that the travel industry learned from what happened in Sousse.

She added: “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.”

TUI maintained it was “wholly erroneous” to claim it had been neglectful and there was insufficient evidence of any gross failure.

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Who were the victims?

Officers near the scene ran in the opposite direction to get more guns while the Islamist gunman sprayed bullets at sunbathers on the beach and threw grenades, the inquest heard.

He then stormed into the hotel to kill more victims.

It was only after an hour-long killing spree that Seifeddine Rezgui was shot dead by police.

There were emotional scenes in the packed courtroom of London’s Royal Courts of Justice as the coroner described how each of the victims came to their death, in alphabetical order.

The dead were aged between 19 and 80. Among them were three generations from one family – a young man, his uncle and his grandfather.

Media captionOlivia Leithley: “Even if one life could have been saved, it’s one life”

Families had wanted the coroner to consider whether neglect by holiday firm TUI or the hotel owners was a factor in their relatives’ deaths.

But he told them he could not because the law regarding neglect did not cover tourists who voluntarily agreed to go on holiday.

It only applied in cases where someone had a duty of care towards someone because of their youth, age, an illness or incarceration.

He added that he had not found a direct and causal link between the response of armed officers in the area and the deaths.

He said there were a lot of “what ifs” around the case, and better hotel security may simply have meant more people died on the beach.

The only factor that might have made a difference was if the hotel guards had been armed, he added.

“Having reviewed the legal advice on gun law in Tunisia, it’s clear this was not a realistic option,” he said.

“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.”

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CCTV footage of the Tunisia beach attack gunman roaming the hotel complex

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CCTV footage of people running from the attacker

In summing up at the end of a six-week hearing, the judge said holidaymakers had been “reassured” about safety before booking.

One man said his wife had raised the March 2015 attack at the Bardo museum in the capital Tunis with a travel agent, who told her it had been a “one-off” and the place was “100% safe”.

A Thomson travel agent said she would not say somewhere was completely safe, the inquest heard.

After the ruling, 42-year-old Scott Chalkley’s family said: “What is perhaps the saddest is that Scott was taken when he had found true happiness with his partner Sue.

“We have been robbed of a future that held promise and laughter of a wonderful man so needlessly and heartlessly snatched from our lives.”

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Relatives arrive at the Royal Courts of Justice to hear the coroner’s conclusions

The attack was the deadliest on Britons since the 7 July 2005 London bombings.

Survivor Allen Pembroke told the BBC how he found people lying in pools of blood among sun loungers close to the water’s edge.

He gave first aid to British holidaymaker Cheryl Mellor, who was still alive after being shot in the leg and arm, but drifting in and out of consciousness.

He said he was alone on the beach for 20 minutes checking on the dead and injured, with no help from anyone else.

“I saw no military or medical staff and it’s only in recent reports that I found out that the police waited, they fainted, they hid.

“That’s unforgivable, they need to be accountable for that,” he said.

Image caption

Cheryl Mellor lost a hand in the attack

The Tunisian ambassador to the UK, Nabil Ammar, said his country had been unprepared for such an attack and it was unfair to blame police.

“How can you imagine that police deliberately wanted people to die?” he asked BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.

Since the attack, he said security in the country and in hotels had improved, and Tunisia should be shown the same solidarity as other countries which had experienced similar attacks.

Following the inquest, Nick Longman, managing director of travel operator TUI, said: “We have now heard the coroner’s findings and his comments regarding the provision of security and visibility of travel advice.

“These are complex matters and we have already taken steps to raise awareness of the FCO’s Travel Aware campaign. As an industry we have adapted and we will need to continue to do so.”

The Foreign Office says further attacks are highly likely in Tunisia, including against foreigners, and advises against all but essential travel.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We welcome the thorough work by the coroner and his team for more than a year on this important investigation, resulting in today’s conclusions.

“Our deepest sympathy remains with all those people caught up in this horrific attack and we hope that the inquest process has been of some help to the families.”

Questions from the inquest

By Richard Galpin, BBC News correspondent

  • Why did the Foreign Office decide not to advise against all but essential travel to the coastal areas of Tunisia after tourists were killed in the capital city of Tunis in March 2015? The inquest heard how the Sousse resort area had been attacked before and how British diplomats were concerned about the Tunisian authorities’ ability to maintain enhanced levels of security in the tourist resorts
  • Was the Foreign Office overly concerned that stopping hundreds of thousands of British tourists visiting Tunisia would damage the economy of a country emerging as a democracy following the Arab Spring? A senior Foreign Office official told the hearing the criteria for raising its travel advice had not been reached
  • Why did TUI not display the link to the Foreign Office travel advice prominently on its website, as the Foreign Office expected it to do? After the March 2015 shootings in Tunis, the advice was strengthened to warn of a high risk of terrorism and the possibility of more attacks including at tourist destinations
  • Why did the travel company allegedly only direct customers to the foreign travel advice if they specifically asked about security?
  • Why, given the threat, did it not check security at hotels to which it sent its customers, when it had carried out checks in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh? TUI managers told the inquest that the hotels, Tunisian police and government were responsible for security and that the response of foreign governments to terror attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh had been different to that in Tunisia
  • And finally, how was it possible that armed Tunisian police officers whose specific task was to protect tourists in Port el Kantaoui, did nothing to stop the attack?

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39109107