Bobby and Christi Shepherd inquests: ‘Holiday deaths could happen again’

The deaths of two children poisoned while on holiday in Corfu nine and a half-years ago could happen again - an inquest was told.

Friday, 1st May 2015, 5:12 pm
Christi and Bobby Shepherd

Bobby and Christi Shepherd died of carbon monoxide poisoning while on holiday in Corfu with their dad Neil and his then partner, now wife, Ruth.

They were staying in a bungalow at the Louis Corcya Hotel for a half-term break in October 2006 booked through Thomas Cook.

The inquest has been told fumes from a faulty boiler seeped into the chalet while they slept.

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Both children died and both Neil and Ruth fell into a coma.

Jurors today (Friday) heard evidence from Andrew Cooper, the former director general of the Federation of Tour Operators (FTO), and Peter Welsh, the current head of health and safety at tour operator Thomas Cook.

Coroner David Hinchliff said that there were four separate faults with a boiler that supplied hot water to the bungalow and that a safety device was disconnected.

He said: “There was no chimney or flue on the boiler, there was a water leak, the piping from the air conditioning system had left a whacking great hole in the wall and a safety device had been removed.

“It was a catalogue of disaster. The boiler looks as though it was 50-years-old and never been serviced in that time.”

Mr Welsh, who started working for Thomas Cook in 2012, told the hearing the company has now brought in “third-party experts” SGS to carry out inspections and audits of gas appliances.

The coroner asked him: “Is it your view that had this exact holiday been booked in the same way today that this tragedy could have been avoided because of the measures now in place?”

Mr Welsh replied: “The measures in place meet legal standards but without full knowledge of what happened, I can’t say that.”

Leslie Thomas, the family’s solicitor, later said outlined the agreed facts from the hearing so far.

He told the jury: “Just factually, we know that Thomas Cook provided the Shepherds with bungalow 112 - that’s not in dispute. The second thing that’s not in dispute is factually there was a water heater there whether internal or external.

“The third thing that’s not in dispute is Thomas Cook for whatever reason didn’t comply with their own policy because there were no checks.

“The other thing that’s not in dispute is that Thomas Cook didn’t do any annual checks and the final thing that’s not in dispute is there were no carbon monoxide detectors and whether Thomas Cook like this or not, these facts are not in dispute and these are failings.”

Mr Cooper told the inquest that the FTO, which represents tour operators, updated its guidelines on gas water heaters in 2006.

Mr Hinchliff said to him: “My concern is that this could happen again based on the fact that for whatever reason a hotelier could choose to be dishonest about the fact that the hot water is heated by gas.”

Mr Cooper replied: “The fact is it could happen again but not because of the tour operator but because the customer can book direct with the hotels.”

Mr Hinchliff later told Mr Cooper: “I was rather hoping that we would be further on by now. Nine-and-a-half years after the event and listening to you I feel thoroughly depressed because I don’t think there has been any change.”

The hearing continues.