News that two serving or former Thomas Cook employees will stand trial in Corfu over the death of two children has sent shockwaves through the industry.
Last December, the local District Attorney stated the two individuals were in no way to be held responsible and should play no further part in proceedings. That this recommendation has been reversed is alarming.
Media attention has swung on to the tour operator when it should be on the issue of health and safety in holiday properties and how this is regulated. Safety regulations vary in the EU, placing operators in a difficult position.
UK law obliges the trade to do all that is reasonable to ensure overseas properties comply with local health and safety regulations. Where these are less strict than in the UK, best practice dictates that tour operators work to UK standards where possible.
But regulations are often sketchy – the Federation of Tour Operators points out there is no law on gas appliances in Greece.
While the case in question is horrific, carbon monoxide poisoning is not the biggest threat to holidaymakers. In the UK, carbon monoxide kills about 40 and injures 300 people each year. Deaths on holiday make the news because they are so rare.
If operators become a target of this case, they would be the wrong target. It is time the Government and the Brussels unified health and safety regulations across the EU.
Tour operators have a duty to exercise care in choosing properties, but the primary responsibility rests with the property itself. Holidaymakers also have a right to legal redress in their own country when things go wrong abroad, rather than having to deal with a foreign legal system.
But if this principle extends to prosecuting UK tour operator staff in a foreign court, it could transform the industry. At the very least, customers might have to sign legal waivers before travelling. The entire trade will view the events in Corfu with concern.