AN ENGINEERING expert has blamed “botched” pipe work for the carbon monoxide leak which caused the death of two West Yorkshire children on the Greek island of Corfu.
Inquests into the deaths of Bobby and Christi Shepherd – aged six and seven respectively – heard how gaps in the walls of their holiday bungalow allowed the lethal gas to seep into the ceiling space above the youngsters’ bedrooms.
Almost a decade on from the tragedy, the hearing at Wakefield Coroner’s Court began today with testimony from witness Thomas Magner, a heating expert who was instructed to examine the scene by tour operator Thomas Cook.
He explained how carbon monoxide from the boiler which supplied hot water to the bungalow had got into the building.
When quizzed by coroner David Hinchliff, Mr Magner agreed that, by British standards, work had been “bodged and botched”.
He said a third problem was that a water leak meant the boiler was working more than it should have been.
The family of these children have waited a long, long time for this day to come.Coroner David Hinchliff
But the engineer said a crucial problem was that a safety cut-off device had been deliberately short-circuited, meaning the boiler would not turn itself off.
Outlining the case to a jury, coroner Mr Hinchliff said: “What should have been a very happy and relaxed half-term break became the most appalling tragedy.”
Mr Hinchliff described how the children, from Horbury, had been feeling unwell in their holiday bungalow the day before they were found dead by a chambermaid in October 2006. The children’s father, Neil Shepherd, and his wife, Ruth, were both found in a coma in the bungalow.
Mr and Mrs Shepherd were both at Wakefield Coroner’s Court to see the jury of seven men and four women sworn in, along with the children’s mother, Sharon Wood. The hearing is expected to last two weeks.
Mr Hinchliff said: “The family of these children have waited a long, long time for this day to come.”
The jury had been told that people staying in the adjacent bungalow had complained about not having any hot water the day before the Shepherd family started feeling unwell. As a result of this, hotel staff went to look at the boiler.
Asked by Leslie Thomas QC, representing the family, whether this was most likely when the safety device was short- circuited, Mr Magner said: “It’s the only conclusion I came to on the evidence available to me.”
The jury was also shown extracts from a BBC Panorama documentary which showed pictures of the rusting Italian-made boiler and the hotel complex. Mr Magner said he believed it had been installed around 1997.
A post-mortem examination in Greece concluded that Bobby and Christi died from carbon monoxide poisoning. The inquest continues.
In a statement released ahead of the inquest, the family of Bobby and Christi Shepherd, said: “We do not expect that the coroner’s inquest will right the injustice of the criminal trial in Corfu but hope that finally we will, through our legal team,
present the full facts surrounding Christi’s and Bobby’s deaths.
“It has been a long hard eight-and-a-half years fighting for justice culminating in meeting with the Prime Minister to get funding for legal representation at this inquest.
“We hope the inquest will be full and fearless as promised.”