AN INQUEST into the deaths of two West Yorkshire children has heard how the family were moved into a holiday bungalow by tour operators despite its previous occupants being hospitalised for carbon monoxide poisoning.
The shock revelation came as Bobbi and Christi Shepherd’s tearful father Neil gave evidence at the hearing at Wakefield Crown Court almost a decade on from the tragedy on the Greek island of Corfu.
You’re still paralysed with guilt about what happened on what you describe as your watch.Coroner David Hinchliff
Mr Shepherd accused holiday firm Thomas Cook of “putting customers lives at risk” in failure to carry out safety checks which would have saved the lives of Bobbi, aged six, and seven-year-old Christi.
Mother Sharon Wood recalled how she heard a radio broadcast stating two Wakefield children had died in Greece a matter of minutes before police arrived at her doorstep to deliver the devastating news.
Both parents demanded answers from Thomas Cook during day two of the inquest, which is expected to last for around three weeks.
Mr Shepherd told the jury he had originally booked a different hotel for the half-term break using the operator, after reading good reviews on the internet.
But they were later told the hotel was closing earlier than expected and offered a bungalow at the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel as an alternative.
Mr Shepherd, his children and their stepmother Ruth tarrived at the hotel on October 23, 2006 and were told their bungalow was not ready for them.
The 46-year-old said he now knew this was because the previous occupants were in hospital suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.
He said: “They were in hospital. All their belongings and things were still in the bungalow.”
Mr Shepherd and his wife both told the inquest they had seen a boiler room adjacent to the bungalow, next to the children’s bedroom and on their second day there, a neighbour came to tell them there were problems with the hot water supply.
On October 25, both the children began to complain of feeling ill.
The hearing, which is expected to last two weeks, began yesterday with testimony from the chambermaid who discovered the youngsters dead and the adults in a comatose state the next morning.
Engineering expert Thomas Magner, instructed by Thomas Cook to examine the bungalow’s boiler, also gave evidence.
He told the jury that it had been incorrectly installed and a ‘botched and bodged’ system and holes in the wall caused the lethal gas to seep into the ceiling space above Bobbi and Christi’s bedroom.
Mr Magner said he had “never seen levels of carbon monoxide that high coming from a boiler.”
Yesterday Mrs Wood told the inquest that she heard a news report on the radio saying youngsters from Wakefield had died in Greece.
Ten minutes later, the police arrived at her home and confirmed that her children had died and Mr Shepherd and his partner were not expected to survive, after which she flew to Corfu.
Her voice broke with emotion as she described visiting the bodies of her children, then later visiting the bungalow to find an air conditioning unit had been ripped off the wall and the boiler house was sealed up with police tape.
“I want to look further up the chain of command in Thomas Cook. I want to know why those gas boilers were not identified, why they were not serviced regularly,” she said.
“This is not just a difference of local standards abroad. This is gross negligence. Ultimately, my children paid the price with their lives.”
Mr Shepherd made an emotional plea to Thomas Cook bosses as he blamed their failures for causing the tragedy.
A heating engineering expert said he was told that Thomas Cook’s position was that the hotel told the tour company they had no gas appliances for the purposes of heating or water.
Today, when asked by Leslie Thomas QC, for the family, if he had anything to say, Mr Shepherd said: “When Mr Richard Carson, the health and safety executive of Thomas Cook, gave his evidence in the criminal trial in Corfu, his defence was that he had no health and safety qualifications so could not possibly have known anything was wrong. That shocked me.
“I would like you, sir, to ask the past and present CEO of Thomas Cook why they carry out health and safety audits on hotels they send their customers to using unqualified health and safety auditors, and do they not think it would be appropriate when putting their clients in accommodation to get them inspected using fully-qualified auditors who know what dangers to look for?
“There were massive gas tanks at the hotel, there was a gas warning light on the side of the boiler house. It is inexcusable for these to be missed and Thomas Cook should not be putting their guests’ lives at risk by using unqualified staff to carry out health and safety audits.
“I firmly believe my children would be here today if Thomas Cook had carried out an inspection of the boilers.”
Mrs Shepherd added that she wanted to ask Thomas Cook if it felt it was right to put the liability and responsibility for checking such appliances on “untrained, unqualified travel reps who know nothing more than we do”.
She said: “We want to know why they feel they should put their profits over the lives of holidaymakers.”