Tunisia inquests: British victims were ‘unlawfully killed’

A verdict of unlawful killing has been recorded into the deaths of 30 Britons in a Tunisia terrorist attack but a report on preventing future deaths could still be made.

One industry expert said the result of the six-week inquest was “the best the industry could have expected in the circumstances”.

The coroner rejected a request on behalf of victims’ families to give a verdict of neglect against Tui in the case at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, instead describing Tunisian police and security forces’ response to the attack as “at best shambolic and at worst cowardly”.

Lone gunman Seifeddine Rezgui opened fire on a beach in Sousse on June 26, 2015, killing 38 people in an attack that continued into the then Tui-run five-star Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel.

Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith did not make recommendations on preventing further deaths, but gave families until March 28 to submit suggestions. Tui and the government have until April 28.

He said: “I will consider all of these and whether there are any recommendations I can make to prevent further deaths.”

Tui said it would take time to reflect on the verdict. UK managing director Nick Longman said: “We have heard the coroner’s comments regarding the provision of security and visibility of travel advice.

“These are complex matters and we have already taken steps to raise awareness of the Foreign Office’s Travel Aware campaign.

“Together with the travel industry, in light of these comments, we must now take some time to further reflect on these areas.

“This incident has left its mark on all of us and its impact will always be remembered.”

An Abta spokeswoman said it would review the coroner’s report to see if the industry could learn anything from it.

Legal adviser Alan Bowen said: “Tui and everyone in the travel industry will be breathing a sigh of relief. This outcome is the best the industry could have expected in the circumstances.”

During the inquest’s summing up, Judge Loraine-Smith said a finding of neglect was not possible.

“While I accept there were deficiencies, I have not found a clear and direct causal link between them and the deaths caused by the gunman,” he said.

“The simple but tragic truth in this case is that a gunman entered that hotel intent on killing as many tourists as he could.”

The judge highlighted  that Tui made no reference to FCO advice in its brochures other than referring to visas, which were not required for Tunisia, and that Tui failed to mention terrorism when advising customers concerned about travel following an attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis in March 2015.

A spokeswoman from Abta said: “The Sousse terrorist attack was an appalling attack on innocent holidaymakers involving a terrible loss of life. It is entirely appropriate that there has been a thorough investigation into what happened on the day and in the run up to the incident.

“The coroner has concluded that all victims were unlawfully killed by the actions of a lone gunman.

“The safety and security of holidaymakers is of critical importance to the travel industry and we will carefully review the Coroner’s report when it is published at the end of March to see if there are any learnings for the industry.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office says further attacks are highly likely in Tunisia including against foreigners, and advises against all but essential travel. A state of emergency in the country was extended for a further three months on February 16.

An FCO spokesman said: “We welcome the thorough work by the coroner and his team for more than a year on this important investigation, resulting in today’s conclusions.

“Our deepest sympathy remains with all those people caught up in this horrific attack and we hope that the inquest process has been of some help to the families.”

Travelzoo Europe president, Richard Singer, said: “The Sousse attacks have shone a light on the issue of who is responsible for tourists’ safety abroad, and in this scenario TUI has not been found to have been neglectful.”

He added: “That said, Travelzoo has just concluded global research into safety and security, and found that the majority of tourists from all major tourism markets believe that the travel company that sold them the holiday are responsible should things go wrong.

“What is clear therefore is the industry cannot absolve itself of responsibility, but must take an active role in providing clear and transparent information about destinations to customers before they book. It is a complex issue and clearly it is a shared responsibility between governments, the travel industry and consumers themselves.

“Travelzoo will be releasing details of the international study next week at global tourism exhibition ITB Berlin, and will outline steps we believe need to be taken to protect the consumer and the travel industry in the face of the continued threat of terrorism.”

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