The shaming of Thomas Cook: How it put money before family of two Yorkshire children killed by hotel fumes

THOMAS COOK was more concerned about money than with protecting its customers, a review into its health and safety practices has found, following the deaths of two children at one of its resorts.

Monday, 2nd November 2015, 12:47 pm
Christianne Shepherd, seven, and her brother, Robert, six, who died after a faulty boiler leaked gas into their bungalow in Corfu in October 2006.

Bobby and Christi Shepherd, from Wakefield, died while on holiday in Corfu with their parents in October 2006.

The youngsters, aged six and seven, were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes from a faulty boiler and died at the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel on the Greek holiday island.

An inquest into their deaths earlier this year found the tour operator had “breached their duty of care”, and that they had been unlawfully killed.

Sign up to our daily Wakefield Express Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

A report into Thomas Cook’s customer, health, safety, welfare and crisis management concluded that parts of the business were putting financial priorities ahead of customers’ needs.

The report, carried out by former Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King, found that processes for crises or incidents which have a major impact on customers “is set up for success and appears to work well”.

But it said: “Individual profit centres such as the ‘airline’ and ‘destination management’ (divisions) have a tendency to protect cost rather than maximise the customer experience.

“Their approach is closer to ‘What’s the minimum we can do to solve the problem?’ rather than ‘What should we do to make this as good as we can?’. This is a cultural as much as a financial challenge.”

And while Thomas Cook has a “risk dashboard” process to identify key risks, “there is an over-emphasis on financial and reputational risk and less emphasis on customer consequences and outcomes than is appropriate”, the report found.

Describing the background of the relationship between Thomas Cook and the family of Bobby and Christi Shepherd, Mr King said: “Decisions were often not taken in the thoughtful and caring way you would expect from a company such as Thomas Cook.”

He added in the report: “The fact that this tragic situation spanned almost nine years is testimony to how much the legal, rather than the human, considerations dominated the landscape.

“The company did reach out to the family several times over the years but these approaches were intermittent, sometimes ill-timed and often ill-judged.

“Conversely, approaches from the family met with untimely and somewhat abrupt responses, or, in the case of Mr Shepherd’s attempts to arrange a meeting with the company in 2013, no response at all.”

Mr King said Thomas Cook CEO Peter Fankhauser had now met with the family, including the children’s mother, Sharon Wood, and father, Neil Shepherd, several times since the conclusion of the inquest into their deaths.

The results of the meetings include the creation of a new carbon monoxide charity, The Safer Tourism Foundation, and the payment of the family’s legal fees by the company.

Mrs Wood is also collaborating with Thomas Cook to develop a “bereavement help pack”, which the review recommended should be widely circulated once completed.

Mr King commended the company for the creation of the charity and the bereavement pack and recommended it should offer customers the option of buying a carbon monoxide monitor as part of the holiday booking process.

He said carbon monoxide - which has caused five deaths on package tours over a 25-year period - is not on the industry’s “risk list” for danger of serious injury, illness or death and said awareness within the industry and among travellers is low.

The report recommended that Thomas Cook should include a section on carbon monoxide in its brochures and website and train resort staff about the risks. It also said the company should take a “leading role” in collating industry data on health and safety issues.